Nuclear News: Dawning of the Age of Thorium, Six Reactors for India and Progress to Laser Enrichment

1. Dawning of the age of Thorium?

From Resource Investor: I am personally aware of the fact that, even as I write, major American, Canadian, French and British nuclear engineering companies are forming strategic alliances to seek funding under Hatch-Reid to go forward with the development of thorium-based nuclear power reactors for the production of electricity for civilian use.

The International Herald Tribune for February 3, 2009: analytical news piece called “A model nuclear-power deal?

This details the negotiations and agreement between the USA and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, such as Dubai and Kuwait. It would give the Emirates the right to buy nuclear power reactor technology from American companies in return for the agreements of the Gulf governments not to ask for or obtain any technology that can be used to make nuclear weapons. As the article points out, a good way to achieve this goal, with no possibility of cheating by either side, is to utilize thorium-based fuel for the reactors. This deal has been announced since the Obama administration took office and therefore we must assume that it is in line with the new President’s policies for reducing greenhouse gas emitting power plant construction and reducing and stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It can be no coincidence that the Hatch-Reid Bill is about to be re-introduced into the new Congress. Clearly, the administration has signaled its support for amending the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to include funding for research and development of thorium-based fuels, thorium reactors, and thorium reactor waste disposal techniques.

2. A decision on Finland’s sixth nuclear plant, Olkiluoto 4, will take until 2012.

A Thorium molten salt reactor is under consideration as one of the candidate reactors. Thorium ElectroNuclear and two other partner firms are applying to get a thorium reactor build. Norway has large thorium reserves.

3. US regulators have received the first part of an application to build a laser-based uranium enrichment plant in North Carolina.

GLE has been preparing a test enrichment loop based on the Silex laser technology since mid-2008, with the intention of demonstrating the commercial feasibility of the technology and advancing the design of the necessary equipment, buildings and processes. GLE said it intends to use its learning from the test loop to make a decision this year on whether to build a full-scale plant, but the early submission of part of the COL indicates a great confidence in the project.

Should GLE go ahead with a full-scale laser enrichment plant, it would be sited alongside GE-Hitachi’s headquarters at Wilmington in the US state of North Carolina. The capacity of the plant would be between 3.5 million and 6 million separative work units (SWU). Laser enrichment could be up to ten times more energy efficient than the best alternative enrichment systems.

4. The Indian site of Jaitapur could host up to six of Areva’s EPR nuclear power units, after a memorandum of understanding signed today in New Delhi with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL).

Should six units (each with 1600 MWe) actually be built, Jaitapur would have greater generating capacity than any current nuclear power plant at 9600 MWe, the current leader being Kashiwazaki Kariwa in Japan where eight reactors produce 6898 MWe. Areva said the memorandum also specified that it would provide uranium fuel for all the reactors throughout their operating lives of at least 60 years.

Today’s deal covers work towards a minimum of two reactors and remains far removed from an actual contract to build. It is expected that the units would be built in three phases of two units each at the site, which is in the state of Maharastra on India’s west coast, about 250 kilometres south of Mumbai.