An Alternative to Uranium

Thorium has been shopped around to renewable energy groups as a valid alternative to both nuclear power and a way to curb CO2 production. Thorium is a common metal often found while mining rare earths such as monazite. Monazite sands normally contain around 45-48% cerium, 24% lanthanum, 17% neodymium, 5% praseodymium, along with a small amount of samarium, gadolinium and yttrium. Thorium contains a minimal amount of radioactivity and is 3 times more prevalent than uranium. The goal is for thorium to harness its potential energy and replace uranium and plutonium in nuclear reactors. The most common type of thorium reactor is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) that has a freeze plug that allows the radioactive material to flow down into a tank in case of emergencies, creating a far safer alternative to the unsteady nature of uranium or the typical nuclear reactor.

Some Positives:

  • There is four times more thorium in the world compared to uranium and it is cheap than to mine. The U.S. has twice the amount of thorium than uranium.
  • Thorium can utilize recycled plutonium in order to become fissile. This means that we are recycling our reserves of plutonium waste that is given off in nuclear reactors.
  • The United States has the 5th largest thorium deposits in the world, thus leading to the reduction of foreign energy imports such as oil.
  • Thorium is safer in that the liquid actually cools as opposed to plutonium or uranium which stays hot constantly.
  • Thorium creates far less radioactive waste than other contemporary reactors.
  • Thorium can be used 200 times more efficiently than uranium can be.

Some Negatives:

  • The cost of research for thorium is so high that many countries spend millions of dollars in subsidies on stagnant technologies.
  • Thorium still needs plutonium or uranium to operate. Thorium turns into Uranium-233 after it is treated, which can be used to create a nuclear weapon.
  • The market chooses to invest in nuclear power currently because of the immediate payoffs.


Regardless of potential payoffs and risk thorium can be looked to as the future of energy. It currently has far more potential than solar or wind and can create vast amounts of energy very quickly. The possibilities of thorium are endless, and some day it could even be used to power planes and cars as easily as gasoline does today.

Comments (2)

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  1. BHS says:

    The Senate is looking at thorium right now — S. 1600 calls for a study on it:

  2. The U-233 created by LFTR is heavily contaminated with U-232, which is highly radioactive and nearly impossible to separate out. This renders the uranium useless in nuclear weapons. This material would be easy to spot with detection equipment, and any weapon made with it would likely be unstable due to neutron flux damaging the weapon’s electronics. There are much easier ways to generate weapons-grade material than trying to separate U-233 from U-232 generated in LFTR. Chemical separation of plutonium from LWR waste, for example.