Nuclear scientists are being urged by the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix to develop thorium as a new fuel.
Mr Blix says that the radioactive element may prove much safer in reactors than uranium.
It is also more difficult to use thorium for the production of nuclear weapons.
His comments will add to growing levels of interest in thorium, but critics warn that developing new reactors could waste public funds.
Mr Blix, the former Swedish foreign minister, told BBC News: “I’m a lawyer not a scientist but in my opinion we should be trying our best to develop the use of thorium. I realise there are many obstacles to be overcome but the benefits would be great.
“I am told that thorium will be safer in reactors – and it is almost impossible to make a bomb out of thorium. These are very major factors as the world looks for future energy supplies.”
His enthusiasm is shared by some in the British nuclear establishment. Scientists at the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) have been encouraged by the government to help research on an Indian thorium-based reactor, and on a test programme in Norway.
The Norway tests at the OECD’s nuclear trials facility in Halden are conducted in a Bond-style underground bunker.
A couple of charming Nordic homes perch on top of a hill at the edge of the town. Below them a garage door in a cliff face leads into a tunnel deep into the hill where the reactor hall lies.
In theory, at least, the mountain protects the town from an accident.
The thorium tests are being carried out by a private firm, Thor Energy (the element itself was discovered in Norway in 1828 and named after the Norse god of thunder).
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