Thorium seen as nuclear's new frontier

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Science  13 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6262, pp. 726-727
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6262.726

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In the wake of the meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011, several nations are taking a close look at the unheralded radioactive element, thorium, as a nuclear fuel—the theme of a conference in Mumbai, India, last month that drew participants from 30 countries. Compared with uranium, the standard reactor fuel, thorium is more abundant and harder to divert to weapons production, and it yields less radioactive waste. But thorium can't simply be swapped in for uranium in standard reactors. Taking up the engineering gauntlet, several nations are pursuing thorium reactors in which the fuel is dissolved in a bath of molten salt. India, meanwhile, plans to have a power reactor using solid thorium fuel running within 10 years.

  • * in Mumbai, India. Pallava Bagla is a science journalist in New Dehli.