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Those hoping to revive nuclear power production have been concentrating on redesigning nuclear reactors.
But a new coalition is showing a more promising way: redesigning nuclear fuel.
The U.S. Department of Energy, the Idaho National Laboratory, Texas A&M University’s Nuclear Engineering and Science Center, and private research company Clean Core Thorium Energy have partnered to create nuclear fuel that blends uranium and thorium, a mix dubbed “Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life” (ANEEL).
Thorium was explored in the 1950s as the original nuclear fuel source, and for good reasons: thorium burns more completely than uranium, delivering more energy from the same volume of fuel, and leaves relatively little waste behind. Most of the waste that does remain decays to harmless radiation levels within a few years, not a few millennia. Also, thorium’s higher melting point and lower operating temperature mean that a thorium-powered plant can’t melt down in an accident.
Thorium is found in sand and among deposits of rare earth elements. The world has an estimated 16 million tons of thorium, about three times as much as uranium. The largest deposits are in Australia, Brazil, India, and the U.S.
Thorium was abandoned as a potential energy source as the nuclear arms race spiraled up: it didn’t leave nuclear waste that could be reprocessed into a payload for nuclear weapons. Uranium did. Thorium was forgotten about for decades.
Also, thorium is “fertile,” not “fissile.” That means thorium can be a source of nuclear energy, but it can’t “combust” on its own. It needs a little bit of uranium to ignite its energy-producing reaction.
Under the new partnership, Texas A&M’s nuclear science center will produce the nuclear fuel pellets Clean Core has developed, then ship them to the Idaho lab for testing under the supervision and review of the energy department.
The group expects the new fuel to be ready for market in 2024.
TRENDPOST: World energy demand is skyrocketing; it’s unlikely that renewables alone can keep pace with demand. Nuclear power could be a key part of the energy mix, especially as concerns about global warming pressure companies and governments to shun fossil fuels.
Emerging designs for small, portable, safer nuclear reactors powered by thorium instead of pure uranium could revive the nuclear power industry, especially among economies poised for rapid growth, such as India’s.

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