Charles Stross highlights the news that the Indian government is preparing to manufacture and export nuclear reactors that use the thorium fuel cycle:
The original design is fuelled by a mix of uranium-233 and plutonium bred from thorium using fast neutron power reactors earlier in a thorium fuel cycle. The LEU variant is suitable for export because it does away with the plutonium, replacing it with uranium enriched to 19.75% uranium-235.
As countries like India and China continue to industrialise we will see more and more technological innovation from these developing countries. Both India and China are hungry for cheap energy to raise the standard of living for their people. This thorium reactor design is important because it can be used by developing countries with minimal industrial infrastructure:
The design is intended for overseas sales, and the AEC [India’s Atomic Energy Commission] says that “the reactor is manageable with modest industrial infrastructure within the reach of developing countries.”
The reactor design is intended minimise the threat of nuclear proliferation, as it does not produce the right amount of bomb-worthy plutonium-239, and the long-term high-level waste is also minimised. All in all, it looks like a really excellent piece of hardware, and a thoroughly Good Thing.
Thorium is more plentiful than uranium and offers the opportunity of a long-term low-CO2 energy base. I strongly suspect that when the brown-outs start there will be huge public demand for a solution, as it will be difficult for the UK to generate all its energy needs using renewables, and it could well be that the UK ends up buying thorium reactors from India or pebble-bed reactors from China to secure our energy future.