Is Thorium the Biggest Energy Breakthrough Since Fire?

Is Thorium the Biggest Energy Breakthrough Since Fire?

By Susan Smith

Thorium is a metal that can be used to generate nuclear energy without the threats of a “meltdown” scenario, because such chain reactions cannot happen in thorium reactors. There is also no useful byproduct like plutonium to make nuclear weapons. In contrast to nuclear fuels such as Uranium, thorium is also abundantly available.

Nuclear power that is safer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper: China is close to demonstrating a modern thorium reactor, and it may have a full-scale commercial one going by 2020. The Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and a clutch of Chinese outfits began an effort in mid-2009 to use thorium as fuel in nuclear reactors in Qinshan, China. These efforts remain the most advanced, in terms of commercializing thorium reactors.

Other efforts include a number of commercial entities. Lightbridge Corporation, a pioneering nuclear-energy start-up company based in McLean, VA, is developing the Radkowsky Thorium Reactor in collaboration with Russian researchers. In 2009, Areva, the French nuclear engineering conglomerate, recruited Lightbridge for a project assessing the use of thorium fuel in Areva’s next-generation EPR reactor, advanced class of 1,600+ MW nuclear reactors being built in Olkiluoto, Finland and Flamanville, France.

The U.S. Department of Energy has allocated $200,000 to government researchers so that they can explore the possibility of next-generation reactors that use thorium, rather than more scare fuels such as uranium. By 2021, the national laboratories will suggest a design.

The research in China is led by Dr. Jiang Mianheng, a graduate of Drexel University in electrical engineering. He said that the aim is to secure intellectual property rights for thorium’s implementation. China’s exploitation of thorium as an energy source, and its emergence as a leader in the field, is expected to soon become a reality.

Invention Thorium nuclear energy fuel
Organization Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
Researcher Jiang Mianheng
Field(s) energy, nuclear energy, power
Further Information Wired, Forbes, The Telegraph, Climate Action

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at

Never miss an insight

Get insights delivered right to your inbox

More of Our Insights & Work
Popup Builder Mailchimp extension requires authentication.