Full Title: Thorium fuel cycle — Potential benefits and challenges
Publisher(s): International Atomic Energy Agency
Publication Date: May 1, 2005
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The outlook for nuclear power around the world has generally brightened with progressive improvement in the operating performance of existing reactors, ensuring economic competitiveness of nuclear electricity in liberalized electricity markets. At the end of 2002, some 441 nuclear power plants, with total installed capacity of 358 GW(e), were in operation worldwide, generating some 16% of global electricity. In the reference scenario, the annual average rate of growth of world nuclear capacity is expected to be in the range of 0.9% up to the year 2025 by which time the total installed nuclear power would be some 438 GW(e).
Thorium is 3 to 4 times more abundant than uranium and is widely distributed in nature as an easily exploitable resource in many countries. Unlike natural uranium, which contains ~0.7% ‘fissile’ 235U isotope, natural thorium does not contain any ‘fissile’ material and is made up of the ‘fertile’ 232Th isotope only. Hence, thorium and thorium-based fuel as metal, oxide or carbide, has been utilized in combination with ‘fissile’ 235U or 239Pu in nuclear research and power reactors for conversion to ‘fissile’ 233U, thereby enlarging the ‘fissile’ material resources