According to a report in todays Wall Street Journal, the cost of building nuclear power plants is increasing even faster than the price of petrol. Although no nuclear power plant has been built in the United States since the seventies, several are now on the drawing board because of the steep rise in fossil fuel prices. However, estimated costs of construction have increased to between $5 and $12 billion – up to quadruple estimates made just eight months ago. As well as increased costs of materials such as cement, steel and copper, there is an acute shortage of the necessary skills in the United States because of the long time that has elapsed since the last nuclear power plants were built there.
As well as a revival of interest in building new conventional uranium-based reactors, there are signs of growing interest in the much more environmentally friendly option of thorium-based reactors. For example, Thorium Power Limited, the leading developer of thorium technology, recorded a record $3.8 million in revenues from its consulting services in the March quarter.
The main advantages of thorium over uranium reactors are:
- There is no danger of a melt-down like the Chernobyl reactor
- Thorium produces minimal radioactive waste
- Thorium reactors can burn up plutonium waste from traditional nuclear reactors with additional energy output and
- Thorium reactors do not produce weapons grade materials.
The energy contained in one kilogram of thorium equals that of four thousand tons of coal, so mining is much less environmentally damaging.
Almost all of the world’s major thorium deposits are in politically stable countries. The largest known deposits are in Australia, followed by India, with significant amounts in Norway, Canada and the United States.