http://www.engineeringnews.co.za
  SEARCH
Login
R/€ = 14.20Change: 0.11
R/$ = 11.08Change: 0.00
Au 1216.40 $/ozChange: -0.63
Pt 1339.00 $/ozChange: 4.00
 
 
Note: Search is limited to the most recent 250 articles. Set date range to access earlier articles.
Where? With... When?








Start
 
End
 
 
And must exclude these words...
Close Main Search
Close Main Login
My Profile News Alerts Newsletters Logout Close Main Profile
 
Agriculture   Automotive   Chemicals   Competition Policy   Construction   Defence   Economy   Electricity   Energy   Environment   ICT   Metals   Mining   Science and Technology   Services   Trade   Transport & Logistics   Water  
What's On Press Office Tenders Suppliers Directory Research Jobs Announcements Contact Us
 
 
 
RSS Feed
Article   Comments   Other News   Research   Magazine  
 
 
Apr 06, 2012

Does thorium have a future as an alternative to uranium?

Back
Cape Town|Africa|Nuclear|Nuclear Support Group|Safety|Waste|Water|Africa|India|Norway|South Africa|United States|South African Institute Of Mining|Energy|Mining|Nuclear|Product|Thorium Technology|Environmental|Bush|Power|Waste|Water|Renewables Technologies|Thorium Technology
|Africa|Nuclear|Safety|Waste|Water|Africa|||Energy|Mining|Nuclear||Environmental|Power|Waste|Water|
cape-town|africa-company|nuclear-company|nuclear-support-group|safety|waste-company|water-company|africa|india|norway|south-africa|united-states|south-african-institute-of-mining|energy|mining|nuclear-industry-term|product|thorium-technology|environmental|bush|power|waste|water|renewables-technologies-technology|thorium-technology-technology
More Insight
© Reuse this



Irecently attended a thorium conference in Cape Town hosted by the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

There is a concerted effort to revive the idea of thorium as a better and ‘greener’ alternative to uranium. I would not classify thorium as ‘green’, but the experts tell us that it has four key properties that make it superior to uranium: you need less thorium to produce the same amount of energy, compared with uranium; thorium is more abundant than uranium (three to four times more); thorium cannot be used to make bombs because of its ‘proliferation resistance’ property (except that it does generate fissionable materials, such as U233, and its radioactive waste is said to be less dangerous and has a shorter half-life than uranium waste.

Thorium’s history confirms why it was never an option for atom bombs. There were thorium reactors in the 1950s and 1960s; US and German scientist worked on the reactors. The reactors were actually functional but not commercially available. By and large, these reactor programmes were abandoned for uranium-based reactors because the latter could be used to generate energy and to produce weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.

India has a big thorium reactor programme and seeks to be a leading country in thorium development. You will not hear much about it because it is quite a secret, following a pact India signed with the US during the George W Bush era. India never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, despite having nuclear bombs, which it actually tested at some point. So, India had to get the US’s nod for it to access critical technology from the Nuclear Support Group for its civilian nuclear programme. India has large deposits of thorium and this explains its urgency to develop thorium technology.

Commercially developed thorium reactors may not be very far off. There are two major developments as far as this story goes: Norway, in partnership with other countries, is racing to develop a commercially viable thorium fuel cycle to replace uranium-enriched rods for current light water reactors with thorium fuel, and India – and perhaps other countries as well – is looking at fourth-generation nuclear reactors as the next revolution in nuclear generation with many more modular formats similar to what we tried for the pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR).

Norway’s commercialproofing can be done in the next five years at substantially lower costs than those associated with the PBMR. I am not a supporter of nuclear power but, clearly, the Norwegians, who do not even have nuclear power, have worked out a very strategic niche and role for themselves. We should apply their ‘nose’ for strategic niches to the development of cutting-edge renewables technologies.

Our nuclear industry should learn the hard lesson about developing new nuclear technologies: going big, bulky ends up being slow and costly. India’s thorium reactors are still a very long way from being proven. When the Indians decide to be less secretive, they may spring a surprise on us or they may come out clean on how foolhardy their whole endeavour may have been.

From what we know, India is looking at having a fast-breeder thorium reactor of about 300 MW up and ready by 2013 or so. We will wait and see whether this really happens.

South Africa also sits with large deposits of thorium. In fact, we have a mine called Steenkampskraal – which was last operational in the 1950s – which produced some thorium that was probably supplied to the US thorium reactors.

Steenkampskraal is being reopened, but not for thorium production – it has one of the largest deposits of high-grade monazite, an ore that contains generous amounts of thorium and rare-earth oxides (REOs). Monazite is also a waste product of mineral sands mining. So we sit on all of this ‘waste’ which is thought to have great value if commercial use for thorium can be found. This explains the big interest in thorium from the South African side.

The irony is that green technologies which use all sorts of REOs could end up making thorium as an alternative to uranium a viable option. Even digging REOs for green technologies is not without its problems and challenges. This is because an increase in the volumes REOs mined results in an increase in the radioactive waste pile, which goes unnoticed by the environmental lobby linked to the mining or disposal of monazite. I do not know the exact levels of radiotoxicity and the extent of the problem, but it does exist.

I am personally sceptical about thorium for now. I suppose the same things that bug me about nuclear energy would play themselves out in my thought processing of thorium.

These would be issues of waste of public funds, safety, the disposal of radioactive waste and the interest of big money in sucking the public purse for profit. But, as I am a great fan of open-mindedness, I will keep my mind open for now. However, as is always the case, as you go along the journey of discovery, you will find that you have more questions than answers.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Other Saliem Fakir News
After a long process of consultation, the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IDUF) has been released for further discussion and debate. The IDUF is a slim document but contains numerous ideas and thoughts on how to take forward the National Development Plan’s...
Debates on living wages or minimum wages are not unique to South Africa. You will find similar debates in France, the UK and the US following a recession and growing household debt in these countries. Because of the globalisation of the world labour pool, low- and...
Living with an electricity monopoly mandated to provide basic services is always a double-edged sword. If it is well run and efficient, it can be a boon for consumers and the public in general. If it is run poorly and inefficiently, the aftershocks will hurt...
Article contains comments
Article contains comments
More
 
 
Latest News
President Jacob Zuma would next month officially launch the Dube Tradeport, in Durban, as an industrial development zone (IDZ), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced on Friday. At the launch event, which was scheduled to take place on October 7, the...
JSE-listed York Timber Holdings on Friday said it expected its operating profit for the year ended June 30 to be between 25% and 30% lower than that of the prior year. As a result of the lower operating profit, combined with a 1% increase in the company’s biological...
Engineering solutions provider ELB Group has reported an 18% increase in turnover for the year, boosting overall income, from R1.9-billion in 2013, to R2.3-billion for the 12 months ended June 30. Describing this as “a satisfactory result, given the current difficult...
More
 
 
Recent Research Reports
Road and Rail 2014: A review of South Africa's road and rail infrastructure (PDF report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2014 report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and the push to move road...
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Road and Rail 2014 (PDF Report)
This six-page brief covers key developments in the road and rail industries over the past 12 months, including details of South Africa’s road and rail network and prospects for both sectors.
 
 
 
 
 
This Week's Magazine
MANUFACTURING CAPABILITY Reliable Transformers designs and manufactures dry-type and oil-filled power and distribution transformers up to 3.5 MVA
While Ekurhuleni-based transformer manufacturer Reliable Transformers currently designs, manufactures and tests its products according to the SANS 780 specifications for distribution transformers and other applicable transformer specifications, it is working towards...
GHAREEB SAAD Kaspersky Lab products contain strong heuristics engines that monitor suspicious file execution to detect attacks
Global endpoint security solutions company Kaspersky Lab has introduced new measures to prevent cyber criminals from accessing sensitive data, alongside its malware-signature and heuristic device analysis detection methods. Threats to mobile devices have increased...
MICHAEL FLETCHER Real-time information available to government when citizens use publicly funded Wi-Fi networks will enable it to communicate with citizens and provide services
To ensure uptake and a positive impact, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks in cities must be provided at schools, community centres and commercial centres to enable citizens and government to access information that will improve access to and delivery of services....
Eco-estate Monaghan Farm, located near Lanseria airport, north-west of Johannesburg, has taken a new approach to modern living and sustainability with its 517 ha development, dedicated to farm living.
Forklift and lift-truck distributor Goscor Lift Hi-Reach launched the Genie SX-180, the tallest self-propelled super boom in Africa, in Johannesburg last month. “As the official distributor of the well-known Genie range of equipment in Southern Africa, we are pleased...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alert Close
Embed Code Close
content
Research Reports Close
Research Reports are a product of the
Research Channel Africa. Reports can be bought individually or you can gain full access to all reports as part of a Research Channel Africa subscription.
Find Out More Buy Report
 
 
Close
Engineering News
Completely Re-Engineered
Experience it now. Click here
*website to launch in a few weeks