Thorium Power, a nuclear R&D outfit based in McLean, VA, has appointed former US ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr. as executive chairman of its board of directors. He will take up his post in August.
Graham is an expert on nuclear nonproliferation having been involved in most of the major US negotiations to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. For the arms control wonks reading this, the treaties include NPT, SALT, START, and CTBT. He served for 15 years as the general counsel for the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Seth Grae, CEO of Thorium Power, stated in a press release, "We are pleased that Tom, who has served as Thorium Power's Non-Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors since April 2006, has been appointed Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors to reflect his added responsibilities and full-time involvement in the Company. As our discussions with governments of other countries and leading companies in the nuclear power industry continue to evolve, Ambassador Graham's contribution as a knowledgeable and experienced expert in nuclear negotiations has been exemplary. We look forward to his continued support and guidance."
Thorium nuclear fuel R&D
Thorium Power is a nuclear energy developer of thorium-based nuclear fuel designs. The Company's technologies are intended to address key concerns about traditional nuclear power, including nuclear proliferation and nuclear waste.
Thorium Power plans to license its technologies to commercial and government owned reactor operators; and, nuclear fuel fabricators who want to benefit from thorium-based fuels. The Company is targeting new reactors in countries without a nuclear industry, as well as currently operating and new reactors in countries with an established nuclear energy industry including Russia.
Russian partners are the key
The Company maintains long-standing relationships with leading Russian nuclear entities, providing experts and facilities for its nuclear fuel development activities. The company announced a plan in 2006 to turn aging Russian nuclear warheads into thorium-based fuel that will run in exist reactors.
In April 2007 Thorium Power Ltd and Red Star (Krasnaya Zvezda), a Russian government-owned entity announced agreement on a contract with Thorium Power. It's seed and blanket fuel designs will undergo irradiation testing. The goal is deployment within full-sized commercial reactors. The contract is under the supervision of the Russian Federal Agency for Atomic Energy (RosAtom). Testing at the Kurchatov Institute, Russia's leading research and development institution in the field of nuclear energy, will take place starting in summer 2007.
RosAtom is no lightweight R&D outfit. It is the Soviet Union's vertically integrated nuclear power complex organized by President Vladimir Putin in February 2007. It integrates all stages of nuclear energy generation: uranium extraction and enrichment, fuel production, and generation, as well as all related industries, including nuclear and non-nuclear machine-building, science, engineering, and construction. This makes Thorium Power's alliance with RosAtom a big deal.
Vladimir S. Vasilkovsky, General Director of Red Star, and also an official with RosAtom, stated in a joint press release, "This new contract includes a technical scope of work that includes a continuation of the testing program in a live research reactor. The later phases will lead to commercial deployment of thorium-based fuel, bringing many benefits to the world's nuclear power plants, including less waste and enhanced proliferation resistance, facilitating the expansion of the use of nuclear power to generate clean energy."
It appears that when the Russians issue a press release everyone gets a word in. Evgeny Strakhov, Deputy Director of Department of Red Star, also noted, "The additional work that will be performed is a necessary step towards demonstrating Thorium Power's fuel designs in a commercial reactor. Ultimately, our collaboration will lead to wide-scale use of Thorium Power's technology in the nuclear power industry."
So there you have it. The top nuclear agency in Russia wants thorium fuel for its reactors. Things are not going so well back in the states.
NNSA has other ideas like MOX fuel
Thorium Power may need the Russian nuclear agency's credibility because, according to CNN,Thorium Power faces a stiff challenge from a rival process called MOX (for mixed oxides), developed by subsidiaries of Areva, a French government-owned firm. The struggle has landed Thorium Power in the middle of a Beltway battle that pits a powerful office within the Department of Energy against senior members of Congress. Areva is no lightweight either and is deeply involved in the government's MOX fuel programs.
The Energy Department's National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) has already selected MOX to dispose of plutonium in surplus U.S. warheads. NNSA officials will also fund and oversee the Russian plutonium-disposal program, and they take a dim view of rival technologies. NNSA claims that Thorium Power relies on "immature technologies" and insists that the Russians will eventually choose MOX too. That's pretty tough resistance from an entrenched bureaucratic opponent. It raises the question of whether NNSA is objecting to the Thorium technology or the competition from RosAtom?
MOX fuel and Thorium fuel have similar objectives, but the MOX "market," if you can call it that, has a more visible track record. MOX also provides a means of burning weapons-grade plutonium (from military sources) to produce electricity, though using thorium is essentially positioned as an equally feasible means to achieve this outcome.
Opposition to Yucca Mountain may play in the mix
Other prominent boosters are Senator John Warner (R-VA) and Representative Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Thorium Power Seth Grae thinks this kind of congressional sponsorship will bring federal money to the thorium power R&D effort despite NNSA's objections.
Penny stocks are not a magnet for deep pocket investors
The financial problem for Thorium Power are that it has no products and no income despite being traded as an over the counter stock. (THPW.OB) With a stock price of less than a dollar, its ability to attract large, risk-adverse investors is limited. In its quarterly SEC filing on May 10, 2007, Thorium describes itself as follows.
We are a development stage company. We are primarily engaged in the development of proprietary nuclear fuel designs which we intend ultimately to introduce for sale into three markets: (1) nuclear fuel designs for use in commercial nuclear power plants, (2) nuclear fuel designs for reactor-grade plutonium disposition, and (3) nuclear fuel designs for weapons-grade plutonium disposition. These fuel designs are primarily for use in existing or future VVER-1000 light water reactors. We have also been conducting research and development relating to a variant of these nuclear fuel designs for use in existing pressurized water reactors (PWR).
The future of the company has to emerge from its current penny stock status if it is going to be successful. Only two of the company's executives actually receive salaries. The rest hold stock which trades briskly at prices well under $1.00 and in volumes of from 250,000 to over 2,000,000 shares daily. In 2007 the company says it plans to strengthen its management team with a full time CFO and position itself to license intellectual property that will result from its R&D efforts with its Russian partners
Nonproliferation advantages may prove out over time
Opponents of the increased use of nuclear power have raised the issue of proliferation of weapons grade plutonium as a result of using conventional enriched uranium in current reactor designs. Proponents of increased nuclear power may do well to look more closely at alternative nuclear fuel designs that could put a technology-based cork in the bottle that contains the weapons proliferation menace.
Thorium Power obviously has something going for it else it would not have attracted Ambassador Graham to its board. Thorium is an abundant element. Time will tell whether the company or anyone else can profit from it.