India should develop thorium-based nuclear reactors as an alternative source of energy: expert

India should start developing thorium-based nuclear reactors as an alternative energy source, said A Sivathanu Pillai, President, Project Management Associates and former CEO & MD of BrahMoS Aerospace.

Thorium is a weakly radioactive metallic chemical element. India’s thorium reserves are at least three times the size of its uranium reserves. Its use requires a proper sequence of reactor-fuel-cycle technologies in the overall program, he said at the 9th edition of the TANENERGY Summit 2019, organized by FICCI and the Tamil Nadu State Council on the topic of “Emerging Energy Scenario in the Current Economic Trend” was organized.

Wide range

Almost 25 percent of the world’s thorium ore is available in India, particularly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Thorium has a high thermal conductivity and a higher melting point. For example, 6 kg of thorium metal in a liquid fluoride reactor has the energy equivalent of 66,000 MWh. That equates to 230 wagons (25,000 tons) of hard coal or 600 wagons (66,000 tons) of brown coal, he said. With the availability of abundant thorium, India could take the lead in thorium-based reactors, he added.

According to the World Nuclear Association, India has 8.46 lakh tonnes of the 63.55,000 tonnes of thorium resources available worldwide, followed by Brazil with 6.32 lakh tonnes and Australia with 5.95 lakh tonnes. Other major countries with thorium resources are the United States, Egypt, Turkey, Venezuela, Canada, Russia, South Africa, and China, the association’s website says.

Thorium is found in small amounts in most rocks and soils, where it is about three times more abundant than uranium. Thorium is very insoluble, which is why, unlike uranium, it is abundant in sand but not in seawater. Thorium itself is not fissile and therefore cannot be used directly in a thermal neutron reactor. However, it is “fertile” and when it absorbs a neutron it converts to uranium, which is an excellent fissile fuel material, the association said.

Solid waste electricity

Pillai also suggested generating electricity from municipal solid waste. This is already done in Salem and can be replicated elsewhere. For example, pollution in Delhi can be contained by converting the waste into electricity. The 900 plants across India could generate nearly 5,000 MW of electricity, he added.

In extracting energy from the oceans, Pillai said that uranium seawater extraction makes nuclear energy completely renewable. Nearly 4 billion tons of uranium in seawater could power 1,000 out of 1,000 MW nuclear power plants for 100,000 years, Pillai said. It is constantly being replenished and is as endless as sun and wind, he emphasized. This is a huge project and the nations should get involved, he said.

India should invest in developing clean coal technology. Reduce oil imports and promote alternative solutions like electric vehicles and harness the ocean’s thermal energy and uranium, he said.

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