Acton Institute Powerblog

Just a Thought on Iran and Thorium

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Passed on to me by a friend about a post last week:

If a thorium reactor, among other things “created no weapons-grade by-products,” and Iran wants nuclear reactors simply “to establish a complete nuclear fuel cycle to support a civilian energy program,” as it claims, perhaps we could set it up so that potentially dangerous regimes like Iran can use thorium and not uranium based nuclear reactors.

As Tim Dean highlights the possibility in the Cosmos article: “Imagine the West offering thorium-fuelled ADS reactors to countries such as Iran or North Korea: this would satisfy their demands for cheap nuclear power, but entirely avert the risk of the civil nuclear program leading to the development of nuclear weapons.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Vance Frickey

    The offer would be useful in two ways:

    1) it would be a way of getting capital to develop the thorium nuclear fuel cycle – both for Iran and North Korea, and

    2) a way to gauge Iran’s sincerity about wanting to have a nuclear power industry.

    Ordinarily, if you’re a developing nation, you don’t start off by buying a uranium enrichment cascade system. Economically, that’s like saving up for a fully-equipped gas station and garage when you’re an 18-year old who just wants basic transportation to get back and forth to his job at McDonald’s flipping burgers.

  • Jeff

    I totally agree. I have thought about this for years, and I can’t understand why it hasn’t been seriously considered.

    I’m also surprised not to hear more about India and Thorium reactors.

  • PC-Bjorn

    I just got the same idea myself and googled “Iran Thorium” and this page appeared topmost.

    I believe Norway can help in this situation and, again be helpful in peace matters. From another website:

    •There is no danger of a melt-down like the Chernobyl reactor
    •It produces minimal radioactive waste
    •It can burn Plutonium waste from traditional nuclear reactors with additional energy output
    •It is not suitable for the production of weapon grade materials
    •The energy contained in one kilogram of Thorium equals that of four thousand tons of coal
    •The global Thorium reserves could cover the world’s energy needs for thousands of years
    •Norway has an estimated 180 000 tons of Thorium which based on the current price of oil is equivalent to 250 thousand billion US$, or 1000 times the Norwegian oil fund.

    This will save the world. Just think: With less (no?) oil dependence and no arms-race, the US and others can spend their stupendous army-budgets on civil research, education and healthcare. And it will be great for the environment as well!

    Get the idea out there, pioneers! :)

  • Bahjat Tabbara

    Lovely idea, but Thorium development has not advanced considerably. Besides, when you think about it, Thorium can be used to produce fissile uranium (U233). Although it requires some fissile material to ‘jump-start’ the reactor (either Pu-239 or U235) it can be diverted to U233 production with a minimal of fuss much the same way plutonium is produced.

    Therefore, I think Thorium-based reactors do not always reduce the risk of proliferation UNLESS a reactor was designed in such a way that fissile cannot be used up.

  • Vance Frickey

    Actually, the thorium cycle can be designed (using molten salt reactor technology) so that gamma emitters can be withdrawn continually from an operating reactor with reduced potential for diversion of fissile from the fuel stream, lower down time during the reactor life cycle, and the U233 left in the fuel stream as another fuel species. The operation of these features can be monitored by video camera, film and streaming Internet video.