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Roland Weihrauch / AP

Researchers at a nuclear research facility in the Netherlands are working on building up molten-salt nuclear reactors that would use thorium as a fuel, according to New Scientist. Using thorium to produce nuclear power is considered to be much more stable than using uranium to power nuclear reactors, but using uranium is more common.

That may be due to Cold War strategic decisions: uranium-based reactors can produce plutonium, which has been desirable for making nuclear weapons. Another reason may be cost: fuel fabrication costs using thorium are driven up due to the high level of radioactivity built up in U-233, the fissile fuel material that thorium can get transformed into when it's bombarded with neutrons, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Why thorium is safer: When thorium gets transformed into U-233, it leaves fewer long-lived radioactive waste products than U-235 (which is usually what is now used in nuclear power plants).

Other benefits: Thorium is more abundant in nature than uranium and it would serve as a poor input for fissile materials, making one of the risks of developing nuclear power — that it could be used to create weapons — moot.

What's next: The researchers in the Netherlands will study metal alloys and materials that can survive high heat and the corrosive conditions inside such reactors, as well as how to handle waste.

India, China, and a Utah startup are also currently investing in thorium-based nuclear power.

Go deeper

N.Y. Times faces culture clashes as business booms

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New York Times columnist David Brooks' resignation from a paid gig at a think tank on Saturday is the latest in a flurry of scandals that America's biggest and most successful newspaper company has endured in the past year.

Driving the news: Brooks resigned from the Aspen Institute following a BuzzFeed News investigation that uncovered conflicts of interest between Brooks' reporting and money he accepted from corporate donors for a project called "Weave" that he worked on at the nonprofit.

America rebalances its post-Trump news diet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Nearly halfway through President Biden's first 100 days, data shows that Americans are learning to wean themselves off of news — and especially politics.

Why it matters: The departure of former President Trump's once-ubiquitous presence in the news cycle has reoriented the country's attention.

2021 sees a record number of bills targeting trans youth

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republicans in at least 25 states have introduced over 60 bills targeting transgender children — a legislative boom since January that has beaten 2020's total number of anti-trans bills.

Why it matters: LGBTQ advocates say the unprecedented push was catalyzed by backlash to Biden's election and the Supreme Court ruling that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender.