Is thorium a safe option for nuclear fuel?

Norway should keep the thorium option open

Based on the double challenge of securing the energy supply in the long term and protecting the climate, the expert commission recommends in the report that all CO2-to take into account poor energy sources and to recognize the possible contribution of nuclear energy. Second, the Commission notes that Norway has the third largest recorded thorium deposits in the world, after Australia and India, at 170,000 t. They would be roughly 100 times more than all Norwegian oil and gas reserves. In order to clarify the economic viability of the deposits found at three locations 25-60 years ago, the commission recommends refining the exploration work and investigating the extraction from the various minerals more closely.

Thirdly, for use in fission reactors, the Commission recommends building on work from the 1960s and 1970s as well as the irradiation series in the experimental reactor of the OECD's nuclear energy agency NEA in Halden, Norway. Fourthly, in the opinion of the commission, it would be desirable for Norway to take an active part in future global development work for next-generation nuclear reactors - in particular in the Euratom Fission Program and the Generation IV International Forum. There, the country could work towards greater consideration of the thorium systems, which systematically only follow India and, to a limited extent, Russia and the USA. The accelerator-driven breeder reactor is also very promising, and Norway should join in the development of this as part of the Eurotransproject according to the fifth recommendation.

Furthermore, the expert commission states that the decomposition of thorium generally leads to a lower level of radiation exposure than the decomposition of an equivalent amount of uranium. The long-term radio toxicity of the wastes from the Th / U fuel cycle is also lower than from the U / Pu cycle. In order to bring this advantage to bear, Norway should sixthly bring the relevant competencies to an international level, whereby cooperation with Finland and Sweden in particular would be an option. And seventh, Norway should also acquire the necessary specialist knowledge to determine the dose for the entire thorium cycle.

According to the expert commission, the eighth recommendation results from the known fact that the plutonium-free Th-232 / U-233 fuel is fundamentally less prone to proliferation than the U / Pu cycle. However, this must be demonstrated in practice. Therefore, the Norwegian legislation should be adapted as a precaution in order to allow such work in the future. Ninth, the Norwegian commission recommends restoring the technical and scientific expertise in the nuclear field that has been lost in the last 25 years by establishing and promoting the relevant departments at the universities.

The expert committee did not come to any recommendation on the question of the economic viability of thorium as an energy source. The existing geological and technical knowledge is still too incomplete to be able to conclusively assess this question. But the option of thorium should be kept open in any case, says the commission in summary.