Oslo, Norway, 10th February, 2012. The Norwegian company, Thor Energy AS developing Thorium-based nuclear fuels, has initiated a 5-year Thorium Fuel Irradiation Campaign which includes the fabrication and test of commercial-type thorium fuel in a nuclear reactor. The irradiation project which was officially kicked-off last week will be run in the IFE (Institute for Energy Technology) reactor in Halden, Norway – with the initial loading of test fuel rods in November 2012. An “International Thorium Consortium” has been established and the members will jointly finance and execute the irradiation campaign with a budget of NOK 80 million.

Based on 6 years of research, development, and planning Thor Energy has gained a leading position in the development of advanced Th-based fuels for use in current and future Light Water Reactors (LWR). One of the fuel pellets being fabricated for test irradiation are a thorium-plutonium mixed oxide. The fuel has similar in-core properties to present day MOX-fuel, which means that the Thorium-based fuel can be used in reactors currently operating on conventional UOX as well as MOX-fuel, without major modifications.

The objective of the irradiation campaign is to document that Thorium based nuclear fuels are safe and efficient and may be licensed for commercial use in today’s nuclear energy regulatory framework. The Thorium fuel will rely on existing infrastructure- and licensing procedures.

Incorporating Thorium-based fuels in existing reactors will enable the burn and subsequent reduction of existing waste stockpiles of Plutonium. In addition, it will help operate the reactors in a safer and more optimal and economical manner. Furthermore, Thorium-fuels benefit by a vast global resource of Thorium.

Introducing Thorium in today’s LWRs also forms a platform for a future use of Thorium in “Advanced Light Water Reactors” (ALWR), where it will be possible to achieve positive conversion of U-233, leading to a nuclear fuel cycle with zero feedstock limitations and zero long lived nuclear waste. ALWRs are being developed in Japan and USA by leading reactor vendors and research organizations.

Thor Energy’s comprehensive study of thorium-based nuclear fuel has concluded that thorium has several advantages over uranium-based fuel, including better waste characteristics, improved proliferation resistance, and an abundant raw material supply;

  • The thorium cycle produces no Plutonium and hence, has greatly improved non-proliferation characteristics. Thorium fuel can be designed to destroy and thereby reduce world inventories of plutonium.
  • Thorium is an excellent nuclear fuel material and has potential for longer cycles and improved fuel economy.
  • There is substantially more thorium in the world than uranium, and a larger portion of it can be utilized in nuclear reactors. The thorium deposits are widely distributed and most large nuclear countries hold large quantities (compared to uranium which is only mined in a few countries).
  • In a closed cycle with positive conversion in “ALWRs”, thorium will produce 95 percent less waste. The waste will only consist of short-lived fission products with storage time of not more than 7-800 year

The “International Thorium Consortium” has the following members:

  • Thor Energy AS, Norway
  • Westinghouse Electric Company, USA/Sweden
  • Fortum, Finland
  • Institute for Energy Technology, Norway
  • Rhodia, France

The Research Council of Norway supports the irradiation campaign through public research grants which have been vital for the realization and execution of the project.
The UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory is acting as an independent technical advisor to the project and supplier of specialist services.