The Idaho National Laboratory under the US Department of Energy, together with Texas A&M University and Clean Core Thorium Energy, have begun work on the introduction of a new type of fuel at nuclear power plants. It was named ANEEL (Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life) and differs in that it consists almost entirely of harmless thorium, not uranium. The technology is patented, all details are classified, but the Americans promise to establish cooperation with all interested parties.
Since thorium is a weakly radioactive metal, it will not decay by itself, so to start a chain reaction, you must definitely add a little uranium to it. But it is required relatively little relative to the total volume of fuel loaded into the reactor – de facto, it is thorium that will burn out in it. It has a higher melting point but lower operating temperature than uranium. This means that the fuel will be able to burn longer without the risk of core melting.
According to ANEEL developers, the amount of radioactive waste in the transition to it will be reduced by 80%. Yes, it will be necessary to remake the reactor itself and related components, which is what Clean Core Thorium Energy engineers are doing. But such a reactor is easier to control, it is safer and more reliable than a uranium one. The company promises to create the first reactor for ANEEL by 2024.
However, the main feature of the new fuel is not in the technical, but in the economic plane. American power engineers are betting on India, which does not have its own uranium, but almost 300 thousand tons of thorium is concentrated in monazite sands – 32% of the world’s reserves. Hindus have been experimenting with thorium reactors for years with varying success, and the Americans hope they can make them an offer they cannot refuse.