Thorium in India

Pranjal Bordia
March 21, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2012

Fig. 1: Map of thorium distribution in India. [3]

In year 2010-2011, India met a deficit of 8.5% on base electricity load. For a country like India, it might look a small number. However, this is above and over the fact that 300 million people in India are already outside the electricity grid (out of 1.4 billion global). [1] Hence, along with expanding the power grid the country actively needs to go further in producing electricity.

Historically, India was kept outside the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty from 1970 because of its nuclear weapon development program. Due to these trade restrictions, its nuclear program went through a slow evolution. However, at the same time, it was able to develop its own nuclear reactor designs and aware of its Thorium reserves, it has been uniquely developing Thorium nuclear reactors.

Of the currently known world thorium reserves, India has a mammoth share - ranging from 25-30% of the total of 1,160 thousand tonnes. [3] This coupled with the growing need for energy and restrictions on Uranium trade had made India's inclination towards Thorium reactors obvious. Its main source is the Monazite deposits, which occur essentially in the entire peninsula. There are also inland resources in the Ranchi plateau. Apart from there are scattered deposits in the Gujrat region, Bihar and inner Tamil Nadu. However, the bottom line remains that the estimation of the distribution of these deposits demands considerable improvements and there is large incentive for further exploration. [See Fig. 1.]

Thorium, which is a "fertile" substance but not a "fissile" substance by itself, requires work to be usable. This is a three step process. It starts with using Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) and light water reactors to convert natural uranium to plutonium. Next the neutrons from plutonium breed U-233 from Thorium. The final stage, Advanced Heavy Water reactors burn U-233 with Thorium, and about 66% of power is generated from Thorium fission. [2]

India has recently demonstrated world's first prototype of reactor using this fuel. Although, the title of a "safer" fuel remains controversial, India believes it to be a safer fuel. "The basic physics and engineering of the thorium-fuelled Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) are in place, and the design is ready," said Ratan Sinha, director of Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai. [4]

Energy demand of the current world is only going to get higher. With more and more industrialization and people, energy demand is going to be higher than ever. With world's manufacturing sector moving into India and China, there is an immense amount of energy need in Asia's sphere. There has also been a dramatic increase in price of coal and petroleum in recent years especially in India. In such a scenario, a constant price offered by abundant Thorium fuel and Nuclear Energy can be nothing short of a boon for a country like India. India plans to expand its nuclear sector to provide about 63GW of power by 2032 and gradually increase it to 25% by 2050. [5]

Though, it looks like an ideal picture, India still has to successfully demonstrate a working Thorium based reactor, being able to deal with nuclear waste disposal with minimum environmental affect, and built successfully an energy grid to support this supply.

© Pranjal Bordia. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Load Generation Balance Report 2011-12," Central Electricity Authority, Ministry of Power, Government of India, LGBR 2011-12, May 2011.

[2] "Annual Report 2009-2010," Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India, 2010.

[3] K. M. V. Jayaram, "An Overview of World Thorium Resources, Incentives for Further Exloration and Forecast for Thorium Requirements in the Near Future," in "Thorium-Based Nuclear Fuel: Current Status and Perspectives," International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA-TECDOC-412, March 1987.

[4] M. Rahman, "India Plans 'Safer' Nuclear Plant Powered by Thorium," The Guardian, 1 Nov 11.

[5] "Nuclear Power: India's Sustainable Route to Low-Carbon Energy," Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, 24th Annual Report 2010-11, September 2011, p. 83.