BBC World News Horizons explores the potential of cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels
The challenge has been to develop an accelerator that is cheap, that is reliable, that is compact and we think we have found a way of doing that…The level of waste thorium produces is much less than the level of uranium, it also doesn’t produce plutonium….and it is four times more plentiful than uranium."Professor Robert Cywinski, Dean of Applied Sciences, University of Huddersfield
Fossil fuels have helped build modern civilisation and fuelled economies, enriching the lives of billions. But rising costs and pollution mean those fuels could now undermine the very prosperity they helped create. By 2035 demand could be up to a third greater than it is now, with China and India accounting for 50 per cent of this growth. A clean energy revolution is now needed.
Adam travels to China to visit Himin Solar, the world’s largest solar water heater manufacturer and interviews Huang Ming, known as the Solar King, who was once an oil industry engineer.
A hunger for energy has spearheaded innovation in China, which says it has invested twice as much as the US in the so called clean energy industries. At the heart of this industry, is the city of Dezhou, Shandong Province, renamed Solar Valley. ninety-five percent of the city centre uses hot water powered by the sun using solar thermal heaters.
Adam Shaw also travels to the UK where he visits the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire. Here Scientists are looking at replacing the material they use at the heart of the nuclear process with something that is more plentiful and creates less harmful by-products. The element is called thorium.
Unlike uranium, which has been used for decades in power stations, thorium will not undergo a nuclear reaction by itself. It’s so safe you could put it in your pocket and must be bombarded with particles from an accelerator to start the chain reaction that produces energy. The accelerator being developed at the Daresbury laboratory is called EMMA – the Electron Model of Many Applications.
Professor Robert Cywinski, Dean of Applied Sciences, University of Huddersfield says: “The challenge has been to develop an accelerator that is cheap, that is reliable, that is compact and we think we have found a way of doing that... The level of waste thorium produces is much less than the level of uranium, it also doesn’t produce plutonium... and it is four times more plentiful than uranium.”
Saima travels to India, which has some of the world’s largest reserves of thorium. By developing a nuclear industry based on this mineral, it could mean independence from imports. The so called Advanced Heavy Water Reactor is being developed here to accommodate thorium as its core fuel. A prototype reactor is being constructed at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre or BARC, in Mumbai.
However, Indian scientists are facing the same problems as those in Britain. Thorium cannot be used directly as a fuel in reactors. It has to be converted to uranium. To do this, either an accelerator or low-enriched uranium is needed to trigger the nuclear reaction. In India they are testing low-enriched uranium as the trigger.
Construction of a plant with thorium at its core could be underway within four years. Two sites have already been identified. The reactor will have a capacity of 300 megawatts, enough to supply potentially cleaner energy to hundreds of thousands of homes.
Ratan Kumar Sinha, Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre says: “We have to demonstrate the use of thorium because it is going to be the mainstay of Indian nuclear power in the future... in 30 to 40 years from now. We are ahead of most of the world because if you count the number of publications on thorium that come from this particular centre and also our country as a whole we are the leaders. Statistics tells that.”
The Horizons series, sponsored by DuPont, airs weekly on Saturdays at 01:30 and 08:30, Sundays at 14:30 and 20:30 (all times GMT). For programme highlights and an insight into the future of global business visit www.horizonsbusiness.com For all the latest news, behind-the-scenes pictures/videos and updates from Adam Shaw and Saima Mohsin please follow at facebook.com/horizonsTVseries and/or on twitter at @horizonsbiz.
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