Australia and Czech Republic join the race to create nuclear energy from thorium

I’ve written quite a few times for the Guardian about liquid fluoride thorium energy: first we introduced it as part of the Manchester Report; then we noted when China got excited about the technology. Next we reported on the launch of a new thorium pressure group and US company, and the other week I posted a brief background guide to the technology to go alongside a news update about a different type of thorium nuclear plant in India.

The latest development, according to a press release I just received, is the announcement of an Australian–Czech consortium that, it turns out, has been working for years on developing a liquid fluoride reactor (also known as a “lifter” or molten salt reactor) and plans to start moving into the engineering phase as soon as next year.

Australia doesn’t currently have any nuclear power generation (despite huge uranium reserves), so I wonder whether the new-found enthusiasm for thorium there may partly be a way of restarting the conversation about nuclear in the country on different terms. The fact that Australia is estimated to have the world’s biggest thorium deposits may also be a factor.

Interestingly, the newly announced project is one of the first to publish it’s expected price tag. The prototype is scheduled to cost $A300 million. Phil Joyce, a spokesperson for the consortium, said about the project:

We have been working with the Czech Republic now for some six years to move beyond the Research & Development stage. However, it took the Fukushima disaster to raise awareness and create an understanding of the urgency which exists in finding a safe alternative for base-load power.

Researchers in the Czech Republic are world leaders in thorium technology and this development would not be possible without the dedication and support of Czech governments over the years.

The time for planning and building thorium fuelled base-load energy plants has come and we are looking forward to developing the first working model that will be connected to the grid.

So … the race is really now on. The Chinese, Americans, Australians, Czechs – and the Russians, I was told the other day – are all eagerly trying to be the first to develop a working liquid thorium reactor. I wonder who will win.

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