[ExI] China Says It's Closing in on Thorium Nuclear Reactor
possiblepaths2050 at gmail.com
Sun Aug 15 19:00:18 UTC 2021
"There is no denying the need for nuclear power in a world that hungers for
clean, carbon-free energy. At the same time, there's a need for safer
technologies that bear less proliferation risk. Molten salt nuclear reactors
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor> (MSRs) fit the
bill—and, according to at least one source
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_China_Morning_Post>, China may be well
on their way to developing MSR technology.
Government researchers there unveiled a design for a commercial molten salt
reactor (MSR) that uses thorium as fuel
China Morning Post* <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_China_Morning_Post>
A prototype reactor, the paper said, should be ready this month for tests
starting in September. Construction of the first commercial reactor being
built in the Gansu province should be complete, they noted, by 2030.
If all goes well with the prototype, says a report in Live Science
Chinese government plans to build several large MSRs. According to the World
the country is eyeing thorium MSRs as a source of energy especially for the
northwestern portion of the country, which has lower population density and
an arid climate.
MSRs are attractive for arid regions because instead of the water used by
conventional uranium reactors, MSRs use molten fluoride salts to cool their
cores. Uranium or thorium fuel can be mixed into the coolant salt. Thorium
MSRs have the advantage of being more abundant and cheaper
China's experimental reactor won't be the world's first. Researchers at Oak
Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) pioneered thorium-based MSRs
the 1950s for nuclear aircraft propulsion as part of the Manhattan Project.
A 7.4 MWth experimental reactor
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten-Salt_Reactor_Experiment> operated at
the laboratory over a period of four years
<https://www.ornl.gov/news/msres-50th>—although only a portion of its fuel
was derived from uranium-233 bred from thorium in other reactors. This MSR
technology was eventually shelved because the Pentagon favored the uranium
fast breeder reactor, says Charles Forsberg, Principal Research Scientist
at MIT's department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and former nuclear
researcher at ORNL.
Scientists in China are now building on the same basic MSR technology
developed at ORNL. The Chinese government had a small, short-lived
knowledge exchange program with ORNL. But most of the thorium
reactor-related intellectual property from ORNL is in the public domain,
and China appears to have made some use of it. "The real data mine is the
thousands of published reports in 1960s and '70s that are found in the open
literature," Forsberg says.
Plus, recent technology developments have made it more feasible to build
MSRs, he adds. This includes modern instrumentation that can unveil exactly
what goes on in the reactor—but also includes equipment that finds parallel
use, such as high-temperature salt pumps used in today's concentrated solar
power <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_solar_power> plants that
store heat via molten salts
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