A group of Australian and Czech companies have come together to develop a thorium fuelled molten salt reactor.
The announcement follows a recent thorium symposium at Parliament House where resources minister Martin Ferguson underlined the importance of a national debate about nuclear energy and uranium exports.
Earlier this month Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Government’s intention to reverse a 30 year ban on selling uranium to India.
If Gillard is successful in overturning the ban it will be a potential boon to the uranium states of South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.
Gillard’s announcement follows rumours that surfaced in October that Ferguson had already been in secret talks to sell uranium to India.
Speaking at the 2011 Thorium Symposium, Ferguson noted that "Australia and the Czech republic had a cooperative agreement on peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the transfer of nuclear material since 2002.
He went on to state that if "a commercial market for thorium emerges and Australia exports it for use in power generation overseas, the Australian Government would continue to apply the highest level of safeguards security to exports of thorium concentrates, as we do now for exports of uranium, and will follow the developments in the use of thorium with great interest".
While thorium reactors are currently banned in Australia, they are recognised to have less waste than uranium reactors, and do not have the capacity to produce weapons.
Spokesperson for SDH and the Australian/ Czech consortium, Phil Joyce, told Australian Mining that work has already begun on developing a 60MW pilot plant in Prague, with preparatory work on the prototype to be finalised next year.
Development is slated to cost around $300 million.
"The first stage will involve mapping the international environment in which we are required to operate, followed by the verification of the methodology. Arrangements will be discussed with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) which is responsible for monitoring the activity and progress," Joyce said.
"The time for planning and building thorium fuelled base-load energy plants has come and we are looking forward to developing the first working model that will be connected to the grid."
Work by Geoscience Australia, published in 2007 estimates that Australia is home to the world’s largest estimated thorium reserves, and preliminary data suggest that Australia may account for about 18 % of the world’s total Reasonably Assured Resources and Inferred Resources of thorium.
While there has not been a concerted exploration focus on thorium in Australia, it is a significant component of some deposits that are being explored for other commodities.