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Thorium reactors could soon power Indonesia, Chile

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Water not included. The desert city of Copiapo in northern Chile could benefit from a thorium-powered water desalination plant.

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Indonesia and Chile could soon deploy thorium-fueled reactors to feed their electricity grid and to power water desalination plants, according to a little known Canadian company that would provide them.

Thorium offers many advantages over the uranium that powers all of the world's 435 commercial nuclear reactors. Among them: it's safer, there's about four times more of it on Earth, it leaves less long-lived waste, and it's comparatively difficult to fashion a bomb from its waste.

Thorium Power Canada (TPC), based in Toronto, is in "advanced discussions" with Indonesian and Chilean authorities to supply a small thorium reactor to each country, said CEO David Kerr, who I spoke with via Skype recently.

Indonesia could install a reactor on the island of Kalimantan in as soon as two years, Kerr said. The reactor would either connect to the grid in the rapidly expanding country, or power a water desalination plant, he noted.

The reactor in Chile would power water desalination for Copiapo, a dry northern city about 40 miles inland from the Pacific ocean.

Kerr said the Indonesian project would likely go ahead before the Chilean one. "Our only constraint there (in Indonesia) is the financing," he said, noting that TPC needs to raise $50 million before building proceeds for Kalimantan.

TPC bases its small thorium reactors on technology it acquired in January, 2012 from DBI/Century Fuels, a San Leandro, Calif. company founded decades ago by Chilean-born Hector D'Auvergne, who is now TPC's chief scientist.

DBI has changed its name to DBI Ceramics, and will serve as the reactor's manufacturer, Kerr said.

The reactor will use solid fuel rather than the liquid variety that developers of another reactor type - molten salt reactors - have in mind. MSR companies include Ottawa-based Terrestrial Energy and Cambridge, Mass.-based Transatomic Power, both of which are focusing first on liquid uranium and which could shift to thorium. Other MSR developers include Flibe Energy in Huntsville, Ala. and Thorium Tech Solution in Tokyo - both thorium focused - as well as the Chinese government.

The TPC reactors will have generating capacities of between 10 megawatts and 100 megawatts, fitting them into the "small modular" category that offers cost and manufacturing benefits, and that lends itself to deployment in remote off-grid areas like mining operations. Kerr said Chilean and Argentine mining companies are interested in the TPC Thorium Reactor (Copiapo is near Chile's San Jose mine where 33 miners spent 69 days trapped underground in 2010).

The company is also in early discussions to provide reactors to Saudi Arabia, he said.

For more on the company, see my Weinberg blog.

Writer's note: I'm heading to the Thorium Energy Alliance Conference in Chicago later this week. Stay tuned for more thorium nuggets from there. -- MH

Photo from SkyscraperCity.

A SmartPlanet taster of thorium and alternative nuclear stories (link to a full meal below this list):

— By on May 27, 2013, 10:55 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure