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What practical issues remain for the adoption of Thorium reactors?

I have been reading and watching a bit on thorium TH 90 and cannot understand why this is not being used more widely or even exclusively as our energy resource. there are two main points in the wikipedia article that i want to highlight.

The Thorium Energy Alliance (TEA), an educational advocacy organization, emphasizes that "there is enough thorium in the United States alone to power the country at its current energy level for over 10,000 years

more expensive than uranium fuels. But experts note that "the second thorium reactor may activate a third thorium reactor. This could continue in a chain of reactors for a millennium if we so choose." They add that because of thorium's abundance, it will not be exhausted in 1,000 years.

We can all agree that coal, oil and gas are in a steady rate of decline with all the for mentioned sources creating a negative effect on the environment. Not only that but in the case of the war in Iraq and what seems to be the brink of a war with Iran, it centers around our energy crisis and the creation of nuclear weapons ( in the case of Iran the nuclear development is supposedly a ruse to create a-bombs )

Thorium seems to solve all of these problems very quickly without the demonic waste that is created with current nuclear power plants and the fear of human destruction by nuclear meltdown as we almost saw in Japan. Even the mining of uranium is creating a heck of an environmental situation as seen at Olympic Dam in Oz.

There is also the pebble bed movement here in my own country and the most insane idea of the lot, fracking for oil. I think the fact that oil companies are fracking is a sign of the times of energy scarcity that we are living in.

Why is thorium so unknown? With clean nuclear energy we could create a system viable for most motors to be electrical, from boats to .. well everything. Yet I dont ( besides China ) see any country taking much interest in it. I am sure there is something that is preventing it because it does seem like a very rational move to make, i just have not, through my research found any, besides the fact that there is currently no infrastructure for it, which is minor really considering the seriousness of global warming, the energy crisis, energy based wars etc.


So to summarize, Why is it not being implemented to replace our current out of date and destructive energy system?

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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate: physics.stackexchange.com/q/20034/2451 $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Nov 16, 2012 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ yes possibly, it did not come up when i typed the title for this article though $\endgroup$
    – user16022
    Nov 16, 2012 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ Before asking a question it is always good to first search the Phys.SE site for duplicate questions with relevant key words. $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Nov 16, 2012 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ ok cool .. sorry for the duplication $\endgroup$
    – user16022
    Nov 17, 2012 at 9:39

1 Answer 1


Why is thorium so unknown?

Because we started working with Uranium and most of the experience gained has been with Uranium/Plutonium. Pretty much all existing nuclear power programs (except perhaps Japan) have been with weapons material in mind and production of power was almost a side effect.

With clean nuclear energy

There is nothing especially clean about thorium. It essentially produces Uranium in the reactor and from then on has pretty much the same waste issue as a Uranium burning reactor. It doesn't produce as much Plutonium but that's not really a big problem in waste.

I dont ( besides China ) see any country taking much interest in it.

Most countries with peaceful nuclear engineering abilities have access to Uranium. The cost of fuel isn't a big part of the cost of nuclear power so there is no real demand for a whole new fuel.

India is interested in Thorium reactors because it hasn't got access to Uranium locally but has a lot of Thorium and it sees a large demand for power in the future with a growing middle class.

it centers around our energy crisis and the creation of nuclear weapons

The other big advantage of Thorium (for power) is that it doesn't produce material suitable for weapons - so in theory a non-nuclear power developing a thorium reactor wouldn't be seen as a threat to current nuclear states.
In practice the research/infrastructure/technology to develop a Thorium plant isn't too different to Uranium so if your axis-of-evil neighbour started a Thorium program you would probably still worry.

edit: Safety. A lot of the safety claims for Thorium are convolved with claims for reactor design. So there are conventional reactor designs which are negative temperature coefficients (you can't have a chernobyl style runaway) which you may be able to use with Thorium, as well as Uranium. So you make the assumptions you would use one of these inherently safe designs AND thorium and then imply it's the thorium that makes it safe.

There is also the problem that designs you have never tried are always better - on paper. But you are comparing the on-paper safety of Thorium reactors with real world safety issues on real Uranium designs with real manufacturing issues and operation issues. When built the Thorium reactors will have their own real world issues.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the reply. When i typed "clean" I meant that it did not create destructive radioactive waste as in the current implementation. That is the biggest reason i see to change to thorium. The waste created by nuclear plants at the moment is really bad ... really flipping bad. Its like giving a disease to your children that you have not even had yet. $\endgroup$
    – user16022
    Nov 17, 2012 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ @gerdi - the waste from a Thorium reactor is almost identical to a U burner. There is a slightly different mix of isotopes and less Pu but it's still not stuff you want to play with. $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2012 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ +1: Indeed, I accept your answer with an honor especially the "power demand of India" which happens here actually :-) $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2012 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @CrazyBuddy - it's a credit to India that they would decide to deal with the problem by investing in new nuclear tech rather than just invading somewhere with oil. If anything actually makes it through government and gets built is another question ;-) $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2012 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinBeckett "It essentially produces Uranium in the reactor and from then on has pretty much the same waste issue as a Uranium burning reactor" .. Everything i have heard and read about thorium states that is does not produce a lethal or long term destructive radioactive material in a reactor more stable to the meltdown conditions to the point where the release of any material is highly unlikely. Could you please provide links that state otherwise. I am very interested in this subject $\endgroup$
    – user16022
    Nov 23, 2012 at 6:00