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Towards an alternative nuclear future

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The capacity to consume energy in both industrialised and non-industrialised nations is growing, and will continue to grow, at an unprecedented rate.

It is increasingly apparent that any strategy that attempts to satisfy global demand for energy, whilst also attempting to avert damage to the planet through conventional means of energy production, must include low carbon nuclear power.

Researchers at the University of Huddersfield are leading the way in building an innovative low carbon nuclear technology.

However, despite its benefits, nuclear power has a number of drawbacks: high relative costs; perceived adverse safety, environmental and health effects; potential security risks stemming from proliferation; and unresolved challenges in the long-term management of nuclear wastes.

It is against this background that researchers at the University of Huddersfield are leading the way in looking at ‘clean’ nuclear. Building an innovative low carbon nuclear technology that is inherently safer than conventional systems; that is low waste; that does not include plutonium as part of its fuel cycle, that is intrinsically proliferation resistant; that is both sustainable and cost effective; and that can effectively burn legacy waste from conventional systems. This nuclear technology is the Accelerator Driven Subcritical Reactor, or ADSR.

Conventional nuclear reactors are powered by uranium, but the ADSR can be fuelled with the element thorium. Thorium is far more abundant than uranium and there are sufficient known reserves to power the planet for 10,000 years. Moreover the ADSR produces relatively small amounts of radiotoxic waste. Indeed, ADSR technology can be used to burn existing nuclear waste, considerably reducing the time needed for safe storage.

The ADSR technology couples a proton accelerator with a reactor core containing thorium. The high energy proton beam impacts a molten lead target inside the core, chipping or “spallating” neutrons from the lead nuclei. These spallation neutrons convert fertile thorium to fissile uranium-233 and drive the fission reaction in the uranium. This process has numerous safety benefits. Not only can the fission process be stopped by switching off the proton beam, but also only microscopic quantities of plutonium are produced.

Through this research, they have shown that thorium can provide an alternative form of nuclear energy that needs to be taken seriously by governments, politicians and policymakers around the world.

Researchers at the University of Huddersfield, led by Professors Bob Cywinski and Roger Barlow, lead the UK in thorium fuelled ADSR research, particularly through the development of an entirely new class of compact and reliable particle accelerators. Not only are these the crucial component to make ADSR technology feasible, they also have implications for the treatment of cancer, production of adiopharmaceuticals, and for other The capacity to consume energy in both industrialised and non-industrialised nations is growing, and will continue to grow, at an unprecedented rate. scientific, medical and industrial applications.

Bob, Roger and colleagues at the University of Cambridge and University of Manchester have founded ThorEA, the leading academic group in the UK investigating the possibilities of thorium power. The group also includes representation from Brookhaven National Laboratory in the United States. Through this research, they have shown that thorium can provide an alternative form of nuclear energy that needs to be taken seriously by governments, politicians and policy-makers around the world as they consider their future nuclear policies. The researchers believe that after further development, a fully functioning power station based on their technology could be supplying power to the UK’s power grid in 2025.

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