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Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008

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This interesting legislation has been introduced in the US Senate today by Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Harry Reid, with the intention to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to provide support for nuclear power generation using thorium nuclear fuel cycles.

It’s said that the thorium deposit in Lemhi Pass, Idaho contains 600,000 tonnes of thorium. Australia’s total identified thorium resources are put at 452,300 tonnes which Geoscience Australia estimates are extractable at less than US$80 per kilogram of thorium.

Just considering the Lemhi Pass thorium and Australia’s thorium reserves, alone, we have 1,052,300 tonnes of thorium available – not to mention all the uranium.

A thorium nucleus has a mass of 232 amu, obviously. Let’s assume that the energy ultimately yielded from each nucleus is 200 MeV, and the thorium is transmuted, and its energy harnessed via U-233 fission, with an overall efficiency within the reactor of 75%, and a further 50% of the energy is lost in a Brayton-cycle engine. Then, we can work out that one tonne of thorium gives about exactly one gigawatt-year of energy.

Current world electricity demand is estimated at a total of about 16,330 TWh. At current consumption, then, this 1,052,300 tonnes of thorium could supply all the world’s electricity needs, all of it, for an astonishing 565 years.

That’s with no use of deuterium or lithium, and effectively no use of natural uranium, or accumulated plutonium.

Food for thought, or thorium for thought, isn’t it?

The text of the bill follows


To amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to provide for thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation.


introduced the following bill; which was read twice
and referred to the Committee on

To amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to provide for thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the “Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008”.


Congress finds that—
(1) the United States and foreign countries will require massive and increasing quantities of energy during the 20-year period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act to support economic growth;

(2) nuclear power provides energy without generating unacceptable quantities of greenhouse gasses;

(3) the generation of nuclear power in the United States and many foreign countries has been discouraged by concerns regarding—(A) the proliferation of weapons-useable material; and (B) the proper disposal of spent nuclear fuel;

(4) nuclear power plants operating on an advanced thorium fuel cycle to generate nuclear energy—(A) could potentially produce fewer weapons-useable materials than uranium-fueled plants; and (B) would produce less long-term waste as compared to other nuclear power plants;

(5)(A) thorium is more abundant than uranium; and (B) the United States possesses significant domestic quantities of thorium to ensure energy independence;

(6)(A) thorium fuel cycle technology was originally developed in the United States; and (B) cutting-edge research relating to thorium fuel cycle technology continues to be carried out by entities in the United States; and

(7) it is in the national security and foreign policy interest of the United States that foreign countries seeking to establish or expand generation and use of nuclear power should be provided—(A) access to advanced thorium fuel cycle technology; and (B) incentives to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.


Chapter 19 of title I of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2015 et seq.) is amended by inserting after section 244 the following:

“(a) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:
“(1) CHAIRMAN.—The term “Chairman” means the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“(2) OFFICE.—The term “Office” means an office established under subsection (b)(1).
“(3) SECRETARY.—The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of Energy.

“(1) ESTABLISHMENT.—The Secretary, in consultation with the Chairman, shall establish, and provide funds to, an office for the regulation of thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation in each of—
“(A) the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology of the Department of Energy; and
“(B) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“(2) REGULATIONS.—Not later than December 31, 2012, the Chairman, in cooperation with the
18 heads of the Offices, shall promulgate regulations for facilities and materials used in thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation.
“(3) DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS.—The heads of the Offices, in cooperation with the head of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, shall carry out demonstration projects for thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
“(4) INTERNATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS AND INCENTIVES.—The heads of the Offices shall provide recommendations to the Secretary with respect to methods of—
“(A) strengthening international partnerships to advance nuclear nonproliferation through the design and deployment of thorium fuel cycle nuclear power generation; and
“(B) providing incentives to nuclear reactor operators in the United States and foreign
countries to use proliferation-resistant, low waste thorium fuels in lieu of other fuels.

“(c) REPORT.—Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008, and annually thereafter, the Secretary shall submit to Congress a report describing, with respect to the preceding calendar year—
“(1) progress made in implementing this section; and
“(2) activities carried out by the Offices pursuant to this section.

“(d) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.—There are authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary to carry out this section $250,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2009 through 2013.’’.

For immediate release
Contact: Mark Eddington, (202) 224-5251
Heather Barney, (801)524-4380

Oct. 1, 2008

Sens. Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid Push for Thorium Nuclear Fuel Cycle

WASHINGTON – Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today introduced legislation that would pave the way for thorium nuclear-fuel reactors in the United States.

The Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008 would establish offices at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy to regulate domestic thorium nuclear power generation and oversee possible demonstrations of thorium nuclear fuel assemblies.

Using thorium for nuclear power has a number of potential benefits over conventional uranium. As a resource, thorium is abundant in the U.S. and throughout the world. A thorium fuel rod would remain in the reactor about three times as long as conventional nuclear fuel, cutting the volume of spent nuclear fuel by as much as two-thirds. Also, thorium nuclear fuel would significantly reduce the possibility that weapons-grade material would result from the process. Finally, a thorium fuel cycle could be used to dispose of existing plutonium stockpiles, which is the national security goal.

“Our nation has focused mostly on mixed oxide nuclear fuel cycles, and our regulatory structure reflects that,” Hatch said. “With the growing interest in thorium nuclear power in the world and in the U.S., it’s time we made sure our government has a regulatory infrastructure in place to accommodate this new generation of nuclear power.”

Speaking about the bill, Bruce Blair, president of the World Security Institute said, “This legislation reflects an enlightened grasp of the importance of supporting nuclear power while suppressing nuclear proliferation.”’

Seth Grae, president and CEO of Thorium Power said that the bill “represents a major milestone toward the recognition that the nuclear renaissance can best be achieved by encouraging new and innovative fuels designs. Senators Hatch and Reid have acted today to strengthen American technology and American business to compete in the global marketplace.”

“This bill is a giant step for the United States toward the development of a safe, secure and independent energy future,” said Jack Lifton, business development and corporate communications director of Thorium Energy.

Thorium Energy owns property in Lemhi Pass, Idaho, where it is generally believed that the largest veins of thorium-rich minerals in the world are located. Analysis of the deposits shows them to be either the highest grade or in the top tier of the highest grade known anywhere on Earth.


Written by Luke Weston

October 3, 2008 at 9:08 am

Posted in nuclear fuels, thorium

Tagged with ,

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