Former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Hans Blix, made a pitch for the use of thorium in nuclear power generation at the Thorium Energy Conference 2013, which concluded this week at the Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Swedish diplomat was the first western representative to inspect the Chernobyl site following the 1986 disaster and also led the United Nations team that searched for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002.

The focus of his presentation in Geneva was thorium nuclear power and nonproliferation. Though his aim was not to denigrate uranium as a fuel for nuclear power plants, as he noted that it has served the world well and been a workhorse for the past 50 years, he wanted to make it clear that nuclear power should not be “stuck in one box.”

He noted that research and development work being conducted in a number of countries throughout the world demonstrates that there continues to be much vitality, curiosity, and expectation among researchers looking for new nuclear fuel options.

Although thorium resources are calculated to be three to four times greater than those of uranium, and the waste generated by the fuel is smaller, less toxic, and much less long-lived, it is really the fact that thorium does not give rise to material that can be used for bombs that makes the fuel appealing to Blix.

His conclusion: “Although it is enrichment plants and plutonium producing installations rather than power reactors that are key concern, this community can and should use its considerable brain power to design reactors that can be easily safeguarded, and fuel and fuel supply organizations that do not lend themselves to proliferation.”

For more on thorium reactors and research, see “Thorium Fuel Test Begins at Research Reactor in Norway,” “AECL to Demonstrate and Assess Thorium Use in Chinese CANDU Reactors,” and “India’s Indigenous Nuclear Program Advances While U.S.-India Trade Stalls.”

—Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)