Utah lawmakers are considering a $10 million appropriation to develop a nuclear research lab that local leaders say could put the state at the forefront of a clean energy revolution and generate hundreds of new jobs in rural communities in desperate need of them.
The money would equip an empty warehouse Emery County has acquired near Orangeville in hopes of establishing a thorium-based energy industry.
For several months, the Legislature has been fielding pitches from Brigham Young University chemical engineer Matthew Memmott about the virtues of thorium, which has been proved to yield energy much more safely than solid uranium and without the dangerous waste.
Additionally, valuable medical isotopes, used for diagnosing and treating cancer, can be extracted from the reaction process as needed, according to research Memmott pursues at BYU.
A single 7-gram pellet of thorium packs as much energy as nearly a ton of coal but would release it free of emissions using “molten salt” technology, Memmott has told lawmakers on multiple trips to the Capitol.
A silvery heavy metal sitting two doors up on the periodic table from uranium, thorium can fire reactors that use liquid salts, rather than water, to convey heat.
Big unknowns surround licensing such a reactor and the technology’s commercial viability. A research lab could help establish a regulatory framework and determine just how 50-year-old thorium technology can be done economically in today’s marketplace, according to Memmott.