Thorium Energy Alliance, Kutsch and his band of about 1,000 scientists and active supporters are on the cusp of changing attitudes about the abundant and naturally occurring element, but they first need the regulatory framework to make it competitive with standard nuclear reactors.
Thorium is lumped in with uranium and plutonium in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 for its radioactive properties. The act provides guidelines for both the development and the regulation of the uses of nuclear materials and facilities in the United States.
But thorium is less radioactive than the uranium that powers the country’s 104 nuclear plants.
Thorium is a mildly radioactive alpha particle emitter, as opposed to uranium’s harmful gamma particles, Kutsch explained, meaning that thorium is not only safe to handle, it is proliferation resistant and can’t be made into weapons.
In the face of mounting pressure after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan, and near-misses such as the recent emergency shutdown of a unit at Exelon’s Byron Nuclear Generating Station, Kutsch said his efforts to create a new kind of reactor, called a molten salt reactor, are becoming more critical.
Also known as MSR, a molten salt reactor operates at higher temperatures than standard water-cooled reactors, but can’t overheat. And MSRs need no water to cool, Kutsch said.
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