From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
Green nuclear power coming to Norway
by Liz Williams  /  24 May 2007

SYDNEY: Safer, cleaner nuclear power is a step closer to reality after
Norway’s state-owned energy company, Statkraft, this week announced
plans to investigate building a thorium-fuelled nuclear reactor.

Statkraft (which translates to “state power”) announced an alliance
with regional power providers Vattenfall in Sweden, and Fortum in
Finland, along with Norwegian energy investment company, Scatec AS, in
a bid to produce the thorium-fuelled plant.

Thorium (Th-232), has been hailed as a ‘greener’ alternative to
traditional nuclear fuels, such as uranium and plutonium, because
thorium is incapable of producing the runaway chain reaction which in
a uranium-fuelled reactor can cause a catastrophic meltdown. Thorium
reactors also produce only a tiny fraction of the hazardous waste
created by uranium-fuelled reactors (see ‘New age nuclear’, Cosmos,
issue 8).

Statkraft, which is already Europe’s second largest producer of
renewable energy – mainly thanks to Norway’s abundant hydroelectric
resources – has recently made thorium-fuelled nuclear power a point of
serious consideration. “It would be a sin of omission not to consider
it,” said Bård Mikkelsen, CEO of Statkraft, in an interview with the
Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

To date, thorium has seen only limited application, such as by U.S.
company, Thorium Power, which produces mixed uranium-thorium fuel for
use in conventional nuclear reactors. However a reactor fuelled
entirely by thorium would have significant advantages over
conventional uranium or mixed-fuel reactors.

Besides their inability to go critical and their low generation of
waste, thorium-fuelled reactors don’t suffer from the same
proliferation risks as uranium reactors. This is because the thorium
by-products cannot be re-processed into weapons-grade material.

Thorium also doesn’t require enrichment before use as a nuclear fuel,
and thorium is an abundant natural resource, with vast deposits in
Australia, the United States, India and Norway.

Another advantage of thorium-powered reactors is they can be used to
‘burn’ highly radioactive waste by-products from conventional uranium-
fuelled power plants.

Over the past eight months, there has been a substantial rise in
public support for thorium reactors in Norway. In June 2006, polls
showed 80 per cent of the population were completely opposed to any
form of nuclear technology. Then in February 2007, the same percentage
were in favour of investigating thorium reactors as a potential energy

“It is an absolutely incredible surprise that it has been possible to
turn around the population in a country, just by quietly campaigning
and explaining the benefits of the technology,” said Egil Lillestøl, a
nuclear physicist at the University of Bergen, Norway.

Lillestøl is a keen supporter of the ADS (Accelerated Driven System)
technology used in thorium-fuelled reactors. Because thorium is
incapable of achieving a self-sustaining chain reaction – unlike
uranium or plutonium – it needs energy to be injected into the reactor
to keep it running. This energy comes in the form of neutrons from a
particle accelerator. For this reason, a thorium-fuelled reactor is
also sometimes called a sub-critical reactor.

Statkraft is the third Norwegian company to express interest in
thorium reactors this year; Thor Energi and Bergen Energi, have both
applied for government licenses to build plants.

The announcement by Statkraft coincides with the first meeting of the
Thorium Report Committee – an initiative commissioned by Norway’s
Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, in association with the Norwegian
Research Council, to investigate the benefits and risks of thorium

The committee will submit its report at the end of 2007. Norwegian
legislation currently bans the use of nuclear power, so the report is
critical for gaining Government consent to build thorium plants in

“Norway has taken the lead on this. We are an energy nation; we have
large supplies of thorium – not as much as Australia of course – but
we have a very advanced energy industry, and we have a responsibility
to the world,” said Lillestøl. “Without nuclear energy we will destroy
the world, we will spend all the coal, oil and gas, and we will be
left with an energy desert.”

Reza Hashemi-Nezad, a nuclear scientist at the University of Sydney in
Australia agrees that thorium is a promising alternative energy
source. However, while the European Union, India, the US, Japan and
Russia are all working on thorium technologies, Australia is lagging

“Australian industry is very interested in investing in this type of
clean, safe and cheap nuclear energy,” says Hashemi-Nezhad. “But I am
afraid that if Australian scientists and industry do not get adequate
support from the government and research institutes in Australia, they
may move offshore.”

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