The Norwegian government, in concert with U.S.-based Westinghouse and Norway’s Thor Energy, is facilitating a trial of what could potentially be the energy source of the future: thorium.
Thorium boosters, including Bill Gates, say it has many advantages over conventional nuclear energy generated by uranium.
Those advantages include:
- It is estimated to be 3-4 times more abundant than uranium.
- Vastly more power can be generated from a unit of thorium vs. uranium.
- Its waste can be re-used as nuclear fuel, and less waste is produced.
- Thorium plants are considered meltdown-proof.
Still, uncertainty and the need for more research and infrastructure have limited thorium investment.
It may seem surprising that Norway, the largest oil producer in Europe, is aggressively pursuing this alternative source of energy. However, the nation has always been a proponent of nuclear energy, though its attempts to develop domestic plants petered out in the 1960s – and Norway has extensive reserves of thorium. (In fact, thorium was discovered by a Norwegian mineralogist and named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.)
Other nations actively evaluating the potential of thorium energy include China and India.
Norway’s test is designed to be compatible with existing infrastructure, and thus will not exhibit the optimal form of thorium energy. The trial will use a heavy-water nuclear reactor, while experts have insisted that molten salt or pebble bed reactors maximize the benefits of this energy source.
Still, exciting stuff.
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