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Letters: Those thorium sands again

The United States and Russia had their weapons and power programmes intricately linked

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

Apropos the lead editorial, “Nuclear doubts” (May 24), one has been hearing of the potential bonanza that awaits India through its vast deposits of thorium sands for ever so long. No less a personage than prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru made frequent references in the 1950s to the Kerala sands as possible tickets to India’s rapid advancement. Yet nearly 70 years on, there is no thorium-based nuclear plant in sight, despite some encouraging noises emanating frequently from the atomic energy establishment.

There could be two principal reasons for this. First, the two major nuclear weapons states, the United States and Russia, had their weapons and power programmes intricately linked. The many possible advantages of thorium-based nuclear energy such as safety, abundant raw material and relatively easier disposal of spent material have long been known and discussed, yet not much thought was given to it, because it had no weapons possibility. That remained true even after the Chernobyl and Fukushima periods, which raised serious questions about the prevailing modes of nuclear power generation.

The second factor is linked to the first in an indirect way. With no weapons spin-off, the economics of thorium-based plants becomes unattractive. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists commented in 2012 that using thorium with existing water-cooling technologies was not quite proven and would entail much higher investment without matching savings.

So we still sit atop mounds of thorium sands nursing (fading) dreams about exploiting them as we watch the world continuing to use uranium, other fossil fuels and even the wind and the sun as possible alternative sources of cheap, if not always clean, power.

Shreekant Sambrani   Baroda
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