Norway to Test Energy of the Future

Monday, 17 Dec 2012 07:45 AM

By Michael Kling

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It's being hailed as the energy source of the future. It's called thorium.

And Norway is aggressively pursuing the energy source, Business Insider reports.

Thorium can be used to produce nuclear energy, but its proponents say it has many advantages over uranium, which is used in most nuclear reactors.

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It is three to four times more common than uranium, can generate much more power per unit, it produces less waste, and thorium plants are believed to be invulnerable to meltdowns, Business Insider notes.

Although Norway is Europe's largest oil exporter, it is a long-time nuclear energy proponent, has large reserves of thorium, which was discovered by a Norwegian mineralogist and named after the Norse god of thunder, Thor.

The Norwegian government is working with U.S.-based Westinghouse and Thor Energy, a Norwegian company, to start a four-year test of thorium in a government-controlled reactor, according to Singularity Hub, a technology news website.

Although some experts say thorium should be used in reactors using molten salt or pebbles, the Norwegian reactor uses “heavy water” built for uranium, Singularity Hub, points out. Thorium supporters argue that using the heavy-water reactor will produce test results showing thorium’s benefits much faster than waiting for another type of reactor.

China, which has 14 nuclear plants and another 25 being built, plans to build a thorium nuclear reactor.

Despite the hype, thorium's benefits relative to the costs of switching from uranium are unclear, cautions Singularity Hub. A report form the U.K.'s Department of Energy & Climate Change, it notes, said that although thorium has theoretical advantages, those benefits are often overstated.

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