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Thorium or Uranium?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/26/2014 Category: Science
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,788 times Debate No: 49995
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (4)
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Should we use thorium or uranium in our reactors. I have read several anecdotes on this and I have also looked at several lectures on this by Kirk Sorensen. Here is one of his lectures -

I believe that the thorium reactors are the future for nuclear energy. They are safer for one and also thorium is much more abundant than uranium. If the next piece of your argument is that thorium still has to be converted into uranium-233[fissile] to actually be usable guess again! Thorium can easily be turned into a liquid fuel by heating thorium and mixing it with fluorine gas to form Thorium Tetraflouride(ThF4). please leave your comments, votes, and arguments. Thank you!


Uranium reactors will continue to remain ahead for nuclear energy.
  • Politics push uranium ahead of thorium for use within the United States.
  • Abundance isn"t relevant, as our supply of uranium will last the length of human existence.
  • Thorium introduces many new risks as well as the need for new infrastructure and monitoring policies.

Since I didn"t see the debate format, I"ll post my rebuttal.

Politics of thorium reactors
The bottom line is that the Cold War pushed for uranium based nuclear power because we benefit from the byproducts to create nuclear weapons. Also, while some countries are currently building thorium reactors, thorium reactors have previously been built but have since been closed down because they simply weren"t viable.

The meat of it all...

"They are safer" and liquid thorium fuels
Thorium is not as benign as you have suggested. While thorium is resistant to proliferation, it can be converted to uranium that does have a proliferation threat. Facilities that irradiate thorium fuels could easily be used to accumulate uranium-233. So, thorium does not create a future that is free from proliferation risks. Any method that reduces nuclear proliferation would need to occur in newly constructed reactors. Either all of the world"s commercial nuclear electricity stations would have to be reconstructed or the process carries proliferation risks.

Additionally, thorium undergoes one beta decay cycle (22 minutes) to protactinium; this undergoes another beta decay cycle (less than a month) to uranium-233. Uranium-233 isn"t even used in modern commercial reactors. The reprocessing needed to separate uranium-233 requires major infrastructure.

You might try to argue that separation of protactinium from thorium isn"t new; they are difficult on large scales. The most common technique uses manganese dioxide to precipitate the protactinium as protactinium oxide. The problem is that each gram produces 50 watts of heat. Scaling up this process would by no means be easy.

Another chemical method, you mentioned, uses thorium based liquid fuels. The general idea behind liquid thorium fuels is using high-temperature redox reactions using fluorination and an extraction with bismuth to obtain protactinium. These pyrochemical reprocessing technologies are just beginning and require an even more complex infrastructure than the previously mentioned acid techniques.

(Nuclear energy: Thorium fuel has risks. Ashley, Stephen F. Nature. 2012.)

"Thorium is much more abundant"
(Abundance of the more rare elements can be difficult to accurately measure. Therefore, the sake of this debate, I"m going to use a Wikipedia table that combines several sources for element abundance.'s_crust)

Let"s look at abundance and mining. Uranium can be mined from sedimentary rocks, igneous deposits, and seawater and thorium is mainly mined from rocks and soil. Both have good mining possibilities. The statement that "thorium is much more abundant" is misleading. If we look at the crustal abundance, thorium has abundance between 6 and 9.6ppm. Uranium lies between 1.8 and 2.7ppm. If we keep going down the list, we find iodine (0.450ppm), silver (0.075ppm), and other elements like gold and mercury that are less abundant but our world supply isn"t going to be depleted tomorrow. Just because an element is less abundant, doesn"t mean it it"s exhausted within our lifetime. In fact, there is evidence to support that uranium is a renewable resource. Even if this weren"t true, the human race would be extinguished from this planet long before our uranium supply runs out.


Even though thorium sounds good on paper, it brings too many risks, infrastructure, and problems for it to be viable within our near future.
Debate Round No. 1


Nitro_Squared forfeited this round.


I still maintain my previous argument. I will leave it as it is and hopefully you can make use of the additional time. Best of luck.
Debate Round No. 2


Thorium. Why don"t we use it instead of uranium. Was the government closing the thorium reactors because they did not produce plutonium? Or is it because of the fuel cycle? What about already relying on uranium so much that we are too closed up to improvise and create a new reactor? I believe that we should be using thorium instead of uranium. Some of my reasons are; Thorium is safer than uranium, and it is more abundant than uranium. But, also why haven't we been using thorium already?

My first topic; Thorium is safer than uranium. Thorium reactors utilize thorium-tetrafluoride. Liquid thorium-tetrafluoride enters the reactor. Since, thorium-232 is a non-fissile material(it won"t fission no matter how many particles of thorium you force together) you can stop and start the reaction at any time just by stopping or starting a neutron gun. It is true that once thorium-232 is bombarded with neutrons that it will turn into the short lived isotope thorium-233 which will decay into protactinium-233, and then into uranium-233. Also, "Thorium only stays radioactive for 500 years, instead of 10,000, and there is 1,000 to 10,000 times less of it to start with."(Marin Katusa "The Thing About Thorium: Why The Better Nuclear Fuel May Not Get A Chance") And, there will be no "plutonium-239, that lovely, weaponizable byproduct."(Marin Katusa "The Thing About Thorium: Why The Better Nuclear Fuel May Not Get A Chance"). So, I"m sure that we have all heard about that thing called a meltdown when a reactor loses all energy and cannot keep the uranium-235 cool. Well..., as shown in the diagram above there is a freeze plug. This is a frozen block of water constantly cooled by a blower. When the power goes out the block melts and the radioactive fluid drains out into the emergency tanks. But, how do you know that I am not lying when I say that U-235 decays into plutonium and U-233 does not? Well the two most common by products from the U-233 reaction are Strontium and Zirconium, from U-235 there is Krypton, Barium, Plutonium, and Neptunium. Please note though, that there are many more fission products from U-233.

My second topic; Thorium is more abundant than uranium. I had a graph here but It would not copy into the "" argument; The graph stated that In this world there are 5,327,200 tonnes of uranium in the world and 5,385,000 tonnes of Thorium in this world. Now, just to make this deal a little bit sweeter, that number is 3-5 the amount of uranium that is fissile and that can be used for nuclear reactions. And if we do the math... only 159,816 - 266,360 tonnes out of 5,327,200 tonnes can be used(Graph information gathered from; World Nuclear Foundation "Supply of Uranium", and World Nuclear Foundation "Thorium"). But, when it comes to thorium all of the thorium can be used because the material that is useful for nuclear reactors is Th-232 (thorium-232). This isotope is the one that is mined up, so therefore there is no "enriching of yellowcake"(Marin Katusa "The Thing About Thorium: Why The Better Nuclear Fuel May Not Get A Chance") to be done here to increase the proportions of thorium.

My third topic; Why haven"t we been using thorium all along? Many people have blamed topics like, "It"s not viable." "We have gone too long with a uranium fuel.". But, also many people (including myself) believe that it was because of the cold war. Plain and simple. The reason this is believed is because during the cold war people were just starting to build the thorium reactors and the government shut them down because they did not produce plutonium. As you know during the cold war the U.S and Russia had very high tension at the time. This was because both countries had nuclear weapons and both countries were very worried that they would be blown up by the other. So, the United States (government) decided they would mass produce these missiles in case of an attack by russia. So they needed all of the plutonium they could get. And therefore because the Thorium reactors did not give them what they wanted they shut them down.

Now in recent events, countries such as, china and india, have proposed plans for thorium reactors. Many of the other countries are again starting to research thorium. There have been plans for thorium dioxide, and thorium-tetrafluoride reactors. While writing this paper I have seen a lot of controversy on this subject. One of the websites I visited (Marin Katusa "The Thing About Thorium: Why The Better Nuclear Fuel May Not Get A Chance") for the entire time I thought he was talking about thorium tetrafluoride, until I got to the thorium dioxide part. Only then did I see how some people may be confused on this topic. I believe that on this topic people may be mixing thorium dioxide and thorium-tetrafluoride up. This can lead to quite a bit of confusion when debating over this topic. To recap during this paper I am partaking in a debate of Thorium-Tetrafluoride not thorium dioxide.

Thorium is a good alternative for uranium, and many other fuel sources as well. Though I highly doubt that we will have thorium-tetrafluoride reactors in the next 5 (or sooner) years, I believe that by 2025 we will have at least a few thorium reactors up and running. This is a topic that started before the cold war and I highly doubt this debate will end anytime soon. In conclusion, I stress my points in this paper; Thorium is safer than uranium reactors, thorium is more abundant than urnium, and thorium gives off less waste products. What will you choose thorium or uranium?
Thank you.
Links to all of my charts can be found below
Thorium Vs. Uranium:

Tonnes of Thorium:

Tonnes of Uranium:

Works Cited

Ber"nek, Jan. "Exposing the thorium myth." The Ecologist. Jan Ber"nek, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

"Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coalition." : Thorium Reactors. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. .

[Name Hidden]. "Thorium or Uranium?." Debate:. Nitro_Squared, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. .

Sorensen, Kirk. "LFTRs in 5 minutes - Thorium Reactors." YouTube. YouTube, 10 Mar. 2012. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. .

Sorensen, Kirk. "The Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor: Why Didn't This Happen (and why is now the right time?)." YouTube. YouTube, 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. .

Source, Energy. "The Thing About Thorium: Why The Better Nuclear Fuel May Not Get A Chance." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. .

"Supply of Uranium." Uranium Supplies:. World Nuclear Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. .

"Thermal Fission Yield." Wikimedia Uploads. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.

"Thorium." Thorium. World Nuclear Association, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. .

"Welcome to the Purdue OWL." Purdue OWL: Creating a Thesis Statement. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <


fertilizerleaves forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


I maintain my previous argument and I wish you the best of luck on your final rebuttal.


fertilizerleaves forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by Jevinigh 7 years ago
I would argue that Nuclear power is simply too dangerous for use.
Posted by jasonk 7 years ago
There's already a huge infrastructure in place for the use of uranium reactors. I wouldn't be against building one or two thorium reactors, but the main reason why uranium is used is because its been tested again and again and again, and the majority of funding will always go to what's known to work. Uranium works just as well as thorium.
Posted by Sswdwm 7 years ago
I am a thorium advocate and I know a lot about this particular subject.... But I am already in 4 debates :'(.

I would have accepted just for the sake of having an interesting exchange however... It's exciting stuff!!!
Posted by greencanon 7 years ago
I would accept this but I am already in 3 debates and I dont know anything about the difference
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