The University of Huddersfield is leading UK research into thorium as a nuclear fuel of the future. Its success in pushing thorium to the forefront of the energy policy agenda formed the basis of one of hundreds of impact case studies we wrote or consulted on for REF 2014.
Thorium had been described as “the forgotten element”. Baroness Worthington, once a Friends of the Earth activist and now chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Thorium, called it “the fuel that no-one has heard of and that everyone needs to hear of”.
The US recently buried thousands of tonnes of it, seemingly unable to think of a more practical fate. Huge quantities are currently being excavated in China – but only, ironically enough, as a by-product of efforts to extract the rare metals required for manufacturing wind turbines.
Scientists at the University of Huddersfield have long argued that thorium could provide the UK with an alternative nuclear future. It has 200 times the energy content of uranium but generates a thousand times less radioactive waste.
Early in 2013 policymakers began to listen. A new government strategy outlining Britain’s future nuclear energy policies called for greater investment in investigating the role of thorium in the development of a nuclear fuel and highlighted Huddersfield as a centre of academic excellence in the field.
We helped to turn the thorium story into one of several research impact case studies that the University of Huddersfield submitted to the Research Excellence Framework exercise, the system for assessing the quality of research in UK universities.
In the run-up to REF 2014 we wrote or consulted on hundreds of impact case studies for leading UK institutions, interviewing the academics behind the research and articulating the significance of the resulting economic, social or cultural benefit.