Thorium is a naturally-occurring radioactive element that can be used in a new generation of nuclear reactors as an alternative source of fuel for the generation of electricity. It has several advantages as a nuclear fuel:
• it produces less of the nuclear by-products normally used to make nuclear weapons and less of the long-lived radioactive products of conventional nuclear power;
• its use in suitable nuclear reactors can reduce the hazard of nuclear accidents;
•unlike natural uranium, its energy content can be used almost in its entirety, and
• thorium ore minerals are abundantly available in Australia.
There are, however, some technical issues to be resolved before thorium can be considered as a fuel for Australia’s future. If these technical issues can be resolved, residual environmental concerns of mining, handling and storage of radioactive materials will still make the decision to use any thorium-based fuel cycle a political one.
This research paper discusses thorium and the implications of its use, particularly in the Australian context.