Before we get to the conclusion, here are some more pros of thorium reactors (continued from Part Two):
There is 10 times more thorium available in the world than uranium. The world could actually run out of naturally occurring uranium in 80 years, but thorium is said to be so abundant it could last thousands of years.
A thorium reactor could consume fissile materials from old uranium reactors and clean it up. Thorium reactors produce a tiny fraction of the radioactive waste that conventional uranium reactors produce, and their operation on a wide scale would reduce the sum of waste material in storage over time.
So far so good — but the obvious question is why haven’t these wonder reactors been brought to commercial reality?
Read the press in favor of them, and you would assume it’s all down to the twin impact of a Cold War-type need for plutonium, which arose as a by-product of uranium reactors and the lobbying power of entrenched uranium reactor manufacturers.
It’s probably not as simple as that, but it is true to say any technology needs substantial amounts of funding if the technological challenges are to be overcome.
But a list of the disadvantages in a Wikipedia article about Molten Salt Reactors such as these hardly seems to suggest major technological breakthroughs are required.
Absent is a suggestion that the process is unstable, fundamentally inefficient or (on a per-plant basis) excessively expensive. Indeed, the Shanghai team plans to build a tiny 2-MW plant using liquid fluoride fuel by the end of the decade, before scaling up to a commercially viable size over the 2020s, by which time we can only hope a more entrepreneurial economy may have fast-tracked the funding and skills to already have a commercially viable option.
Either way, thorium may be more of a household name in the future than it has been in the past.