Source: The Salt Lake Tribune | Brian Maffly | August 15, 2017
Rural Utah counties looking to partner with firm proposing to produce medical isotopes, other valuable materials.
Imagine generating nuclear power that can’t be turned into weapons, doesn’t pose a risk of meltdown or radiation release nor produce high-level radioactive waste that could contaminate the environment for millennia. And to sweeten the deal, medical isotopes could be harvested from a process.
Such technology, using thorium instead of uranium as a core fuel, is proven to some extent and Utah is well-positioned to lead the nation in developing what could be a world-changing energy source, according to experts and entrepreneurs who testified recently before the Utah Legislature.
Now a Utah startup is developing a thorium reactor, perhaps the first in the U.S. in half a century, and a consortium of eastern Utah counties is exploring whether to participate in the project. The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC) last month issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) seeking a “project analyst” to evaluate “a thorium energy facility for producing electricity, etc. as proposed by Alpha Tech Research Corp.”
Alpha Tech incorporated last year with Salt Lake City data entrepreneur Nick Baguley and Brigham Young University professor Matthew Memmott at the helm. The firm is looking to site a 30-megawatt test reactor in Utah to produce medical isotopes and other valuable materials. On Friday, Baguley declined to identify the other materials, citing proprietary concerns.
“We are a young company working on a technology that is not only cutting edge, but could have significant impact on the world,” Baguley said.
Utah is rich in two of the three elements — beryllium and lithium — needed to create a form of liquid salt best suited for conveying heat energy in thorium reactors, Memmott, an assistant professor chemical engineering, told the SCIC board last month.
Utah’s salt flats hold a lot of lithium, while 85 percent of the world’s beryllium comes from a mine near Delta, Memmott said. The state also has a host of rural sites ideal for locating such a test reactor while maintaining proximity to an airport for rapid shipping of medical isotopes to customers worldwide, he said.