Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Materials

Advanced Nuclear Fuels and Fuel Cycles

Coordinated Research Project (CRP) on Near term and Promising Long Term Options for Deployment of Thorium Based Nuclear Energy (T12026)

There is an increased interest among the Member States for the use of thorium fuel cycle in addressing the sustainable growth of nuclear energy. The major incentives for use of thorium include natural abundance of thorium resources, inert nature of thoria, improved thermo-physical properties compared to urania, high burn-up capability, suitability of high conversion ratio fuel cycles, and inherent proliferation resistance characteristics of thorium based fuels.

Thorium based fuels have been studied for their potential applications in almost all types of reactors including PWRs, BWRs, PHWRs, HTRs, FBRs and MSR, though on a smaller scale as compared to U/ U-Pu fuels.

Thorium has several inherent physical and neutronic characteristics that may be exploited in current as well as next generation nuclear energy systems to achieve, for example, enhanced capabilities for high conversion, further augmented inherent safety characteristics, reduced MA production, etc. 

Some Member States are of the view that near term deployment of thorium fuels in proven reactor types is not only feasible, but also attractive for contributing to meeting expanding energy needs. Several options are also currently under consideration and even under active development for deployment in a longer term.

The CRP will provide a platform for sharing of research results and previous experience among the participating national laboratories and research institutes of the Member States.

Specific Research Objectives
The CRP will provide a platform for sharing of research results and previous experience among participating Member States. A key focus will be on the development of strategies for deployment of thorium based nuclear energy in near, medium and long term timeframes and the identification of gaps in achieving the same. The following topics, pertaining to thorium fuel cycle will be covered.
  1. Reactor Systems: Concepts and designs that can effectively use thorium as a fuel.
  2. Thorium based fuel fabrication / processing technologies
  3. Thorium fuel performance
  4. Spent thorium fuel reprocessing  technologies
  5. Economics of thorium fuel cycles
  6. Identification of gaps that may affect commercial deployment
  7. Strategies for deploying thorium fuel cycles in different time frames.
The CRP findings will be consolidated in the form of Technical Document

Period
2012-2014

Contact Point
Mr Uddaran Basak Phone: +43 2600 22771

Background

Between the 1960s and the mid1980s, much was done to develop thorium fuels for various reactor systems. With the exception of a few countries, such as India, the motivation for near term deployment of thorium dropped due to the low uranium price and the weak sentiment toward nuclear power, in general, in several regions of the world.

Attitudes have been changing and there is now an increased motivation for developing technologies for tapping the large energy potential of thorium. Reasons include anticipated fissile resource constraint to address the potential large scale deployment of nuclear energy in several parts of the world.

The R&D activity now taking place worldwide aims to exploit several advanced capabilities of the thorium fuel cycle that include:
  1. Trans-uranic actinide (Pu and/or MAs) consumption/management
  2. Using the thermal fissile breeding capability of the Th-233U system

The reactor platforms that are/have been looked at include LWRs, HWRs, HTRs, MSRs, and Fast Reactors. Several new advanced variants of these reactor types to particularly take advantage of the neutronic characteristics of the Th-233U fuels are also under development.

The IAEA has covered the prospective use of thorium as an energy source in several documents published in the past:

At the current juncture there is a need for a coordinated examination of HOW thorium fuel types may be deployed, and WHAT hinders progress toward such goals. The CRP seeks to addresses this by establishing a group of motivated experts who with research inputs, and using the RCM platform, will assess, discuss and report/advise on strategies that will bring thorium energy to fruition.

About Coordinated Research Projects
For further information on CRPs, please see Coordinated Research Activites web page. To apply for a CRP, please use the forms here.

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