The project is based on ideas expressed by Italian researcher Caro Rubbia, Novel prize winner and Global Energy Prize laureate. In the 1980s, he proposed using a proton accelerator to create a source of of high-intensity neutrons to bring about a transmutation of thorium into uranium isotope 233 which, upon disintegration, releases energy.
This principle involves a radical change in the process of splitting atoms, fundamental to the work of nuclear reactors, in which uranium fuel undergoes neutron bombardment: when atoms are split they release energy and generate an even larger numbers of neutrons which, in the end, leads to a chain reaction. The heat released as a result is then transformed into electricity.
Unlike uranium, thorium has no self-sustaining ability to undergo fission. To shut down a thorium reactor, it is sufficient to shut down the proton accelerator, which also ensures high safety standards.
The life cycle of thorium radioactive nuclear waste will be shorter by a factor of thousands than uranium (300 years instead of 300,000 years) and the uranium isotope (UA 233) will be ineffective in the manufacture of nuclear weapons (unlike the UA 235 used today).
Another advantage is thorium’s availability: the three leading countries in uranium production (Australia, Kazakhstan and Canada) account for 52 % of all world-wide deposits, whereas for thorium, the three leading countries (India, Brazil and Australia) make up 33 % , according to the World Nuclear Association).
To carry out the Transmutex project, 8 million Swiss francs ($8.7 million) in investment has already been secured—5 million of which has come from private U.S. investors. Cost of construction of the prototype thorium nuclear power station is estimated at 1.5 million Swiss francs, the swissinfo.ch website reported.
The share of nuclear power in Switzerland’s energy balance totals 32.9 %, according to data from the PRIS Information system on nuclear reactors issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Four reactors are in operation, with a combined installed capacity of 2,960 megawatts (MW). A fifth reactor, with a capacity of 373 MW, located at the single-reactor power station at Muehleberg in Canton Berne, was closed in 2019 after being in operation for 47 years.