When the atomic age dawned in the 1950s, we were promised clean, abundant, safe energy. Instead, the splitting of the atom locked us into an endless debate over nuclear waste, meltdowns, inefficiencies, cost over-runs, and the weaponization of plutonium.
Thorium WGSI Equinox Summit
Decades down the road, what if we could solve all these problems? What if a new technology could completely reshape the nuclear debate?

Enter Yacine Kadi, an applied physicist at CERN in Geneva and a confirmed participant in this summer’s Equinox Summit. He’s designed a new type of reactor that uses a particle accelerator to jumpstart nuclear fission in an element called Thorium (aptly-named after the Norse god Thor) that can burn nuclear waste inside an old Russian submarine reactor.

It’s an ambitious idea for the current nuclear industry, but many argue the benefits are pretty straightforward:

High energy neutrons shot from the particle accelerator power the reaction, so turn them off and your nuke turns off too. No runaway chain reactions or meltdowns.

Nuclear waste
Spent thorium produces vastly less radioactive waste materials and no potentially weapons-grade plutonium. Moreover, spent uranium fuel rods from conventional nuclear reactors can be burned in thorium reactors to turn that uranium into less harmful elements.

A current nuclear reactor is about 30% effective, versus the best gas-fired power plants that are 40-50% effective. Thorium reactors could be 50-60% effective.

Added benefits
Thorium reactors must operate at very high temperatures to be effective, around 700 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, lead must cool the reactor instead of the traditional water. However, lead is highly inert and would require no pumps that could break or be disabled in a power outage. Plus, such a high temperature makes it possible to warm entire neighborhoods with extra heat or even crack water molecules to make hydrogen.

…And did we mention that thorium is far more abundant and easier to find than uranium?

Of course, Kadi is aware that there will be challenges to get this technology developed, the biggest being a stagnant nuclear industry. As well, developing a particle accelerator able to run without interruption in the necessary energy level will require some additional work.

Better living through Thor?
But, using a reactor developed for Russian nuclear submarines, Kadi believes a prototype could be up and running within five years for about $400 million – less than the billions convention nuclear reactors cost. Such a prototype could power a city of about a million people.

This new type of reactor is interesting countries like India that have a lot of thorium deposits and would like to build 200 nuclear reactors in the next 20-30 years.

Environmentalists and industry representatives have fought heated public campaigns over nuclear safety.

Thorium could end those debates with a new technology that produces highly efficient energy, reduces waste, and is largely meltdown-proof.

Isn’t that what the atomic age was supposed to look like?

Thorium Reactor Diagrams (courtesy of Yacine Kadi):
Principle of an Accelerator Driven System (ADS):
Thorium Reactor Diagram Principle of an Accelerator Driven system WGSI Equinox Summit

Schematic view of the energy amplifier system for electricity production:
Thorium Reactor Diagram Technologies involved in ADS are already in use elsewhere WGSI Equinox Summit

A combined incinerator and thorium energy generator:
Thorium Reactor Diagram A combined incinerator and thorium energy generator WGSI Equinox Summit

Technologies involved in ADS are already in use elsewhere:
Thorium Reactor Diagram Technologies involved in ADS are already in use elsewhere WGSI Equinox Summit

Written by: Graeme Stemp-Morlock