WASHINGTON, D.C., November 30, 2006 – At a forum held today at the National Press Club, a group of leading nuclear scientists examined the potential of thorium, a substance similar to uranium but environmentally safer and more plentiful, which could help meet the entire world's growing energy needs.
"A tremendous growth in energy supply will be needed to even come close to meeting future energy demands," said keynote speaker Dr. Sterling Bailey. "Hundreds of new facilities per year will be needed." Dr. Bailey added that each currently known alternative "green" energy source has its niche, but overall cannot significantly impact energy demand.
The forum—sponsored by DBI, a California-based aerospace company that has been conducting secluded research and development on thorium-fueled reactors for the past 30 years—explored the environmental benefits, safety and national security aspects, economic benefits and commercial applications of thorium. The forum also had a speaker from McLean, Virginia-based Thorium Power Ltd. and the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow.
Emphasizing a critical need for expanding energy sources and the unique requirements to move to a hydrogen economy, DBI has evaluated nuclear power options and has developed an innovative concept to exploit the benefits of a thorium fuel cycle.
"For decades, research scientists across the globe have recognized thorium's usefulness as a fuel, but the technology and economics to make a transition to thorium did not exist," said Hector D'Auvergne, founder of DBI. "Today, we are on the threshold of developing a reactor where thorium could not only gradually replace fossil fuels as the world's energy source, but nuclear energy as well."
Thorium, which is plentiful in North America, can produce fewer environmental and human health hazards in its fuel production than the conventional uranium fuel cycle. Most significantly, the new technologies being developed take advantage of thorium's energy potential to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste.
Addressing the environmental benefits of thorium, nuclear engineer Dr. Jeffery Latkowski discussed how thorium fuel cycles produce much less land disruption, chemical and radiological hazards, and chemical toxicity than the conventional uranium fuel cycle. "Thorium offers many potential advantages over traditional uranium/plutonium fuel cycles, including less waste and a much simpler and cleaner fuel cycle," said Latkowski. "DBI hopes to offer power systems that take maximum advantage of thorium's benefits."
The forum also explored the role of thorium in national security. Dr. Andrey Mushakov with Thorium Power Ltd. and DBI physicist Dr. Kenneth Ricci outlined the critical advantages of thorium over uranium. Mushakov discussed Thorium Power's work to develop and deploy nuclear fuel designs developed by Dr. Alvin Radkowsky to stop the production of weapons-suitable plutonium and eliminate existing plutonium stockpiles.
"To help carry out this mission, in 1994 Thorium Power came to Russia to collaborate with nuclear scientists and engineers at the Russian Research Center Kurchatov Institute," Mushakov said. Currently, specialists at the Kurchatov Institute and other entities are working on Thorium Power's project in Russia.
Dr. Ricci pointed to a 2000 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that examined the benefits of thorium over uranium, including fewer problems disposing of highly radioactive and long-lived waste, and fewer stockpiles of plutonium that could be diverted for weapons proliferation. "DBI Thorium Reactors are designed to maintain the fuel in the core for the life of the reactor," said Ricci, "and together with satellite monitoring of any facility, help prevent the diversion of any material for weapons."
The forum concluded with participants urging the federal government to play a more aggressive role in the development of thorium by funding thorium research and helping companies that have commercial applications to bring their research to the marketplace.