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Thorium Tests Begin In Norway

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Mark Halper, Smart Planet

A small Norwegian company is testing thorium fuel as a replacement for uranium at a reactor in Norway, catching the attention of the conventional nuclear industry, which has acknowledged that thorium could provide a safer and less weapons-prone nuclear power future.

Putting its foot down. The thorium crowd is adamant that thorium trumps uranium for nuclear safety and efficiency. These engineers stand atop the test reactor in Halden, Norway, which is now burning thorium.

Oslo-based Thor Energy started burning thorium at a test reactor in Halden, Norway in late April.

While thorium enthusiasts promote the element as a safer alternative to uranium, the conventional industry – built on uranium – often downplays the element named after the Norse god of thunder.

Thus, it was notable when World Nuclear News took note of the trial last week and played up thorium’s potential superiority. WNA is part of the World Nuclear Association, a conventional nuclear industry group. In its story, it pointed out that thorium “promises higher operating safety margins…and produces no new plutonium as it operates.”

One of thorium’s many advantages over uranium is that it leaves less long-lived waste such as plutonium, which can be used to make bombs. It can also operate more efficiently than uranium, and is well suited for alternative reactor types known as molten salt reactors that use liquid fuel and cannot melt down.

As I wrote last November, Thor is combining thorium with plutonium, a combination known as thorium MOX (mixed-oxide). By mixing the two, the nuclear industry could use plutonium “waste” from existing reactors as fuel, rather than spending large sums of money to safely store plutonium. The nuclear industry today burns uranium-plutonium MOX at some conventional reactors.

“Thor Energy pointed out that thorium-plutonium fuels therefore provide a new option for reducing civil and military plutonium stocks,” WNN wrote.

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