Some people in the USA might remember who Hans Blix is. He is the disarmament advocate who famously found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq a decade ago
Addressing the Thorium Energy Conference 2013 , Blix said “that nuclear power operators should move away from their time-honoured practice of using uranium fuel with its links to potential nuclear weapons fabrication via both the uranium enrichment process and uranium’s plutonium waste.
“Even though designers and operators are by no means at the end of the uranium road, it is desirable today, I am convinced, that the designers and the others use their skill and imagination to explore and test other avenues as well,” Blix said.
“The propeller plane that served us long and still serves us gave way to the jet plane that now dominates,”
The former United Nations chief weapons inspector who also ran the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997 went on to say “Diesel engines have migrated from their traditional home in trucks to a growing number of cars and cars with electric engines are now entering the market. Nuclear power should also not be stuck in one box.”
Blix listed many of thorium’s advantages, noting that:
- Thorium fuel gives rise to waste that is smaller in volume
- less toxic and much less long lived than the wastes that result from uranium fuel
- Thorium is three to four times more plentiful than uranium
The civilian nuclear community must do what it can to help reduce the risk that more nuclear weapons are made from uranium or plutonium,” Blix said. “Although it is enrichment plants and plutonium producing installations rather than power reactors that are key concerns, this community, this nuclear community, can and should use its considerable brain power to design reactors that can be easily safeguarded and fuel and supply organizations that do not lend themselves to proliferation. I think in these regards the thorium community may have very important contributions to make.”
Blix described the obstacles that are in the way of a shift to thorium and other nuclear alternatives as “political” rather than “technical.”
The conference, whichtook place place at CERN, the international physics laboratory. Other announcements at the conference included
- Conventional nuclear giant Areva announced a thorium collaboration with Belgian chemical company Solvay.
- Nobel prize-winning physicist Carlo Rubbia lauded thorium for its “absolute pre-eminence” over uranium.
- Oystein Asphjell, chief executive of Thor Energy in an interview with teh BBC,: “There is lots of thorium in the world, very well distributed all over the globe.” As for nuclear waste, he said “we do not generate long lived waste. The BBC News report explained, when a uranium reactor overheats and the fuel rods can’t contain the chain reaction, as happened at Fukushima, the crisis continues. This bears contrast to the case of thorium where, if something happened to a thorium reactor, technicians could switch off the stimulus which comes from uranium or plutonium in a small feeder plant. The thorium reaction would shut itself off without any human intervention.
- A number of countries have explored thorium as an alternative fuel. Led by Norwegian company Thor Energy, thorium is being tested at a site in Halden, Norway.