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Power Science

China Starts Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Project 387

greg_barton writes "The Energy From Thorium blog reports, 'The People's Republic of China has initiated a research and development project in thorium molten-salt reactor technology. It was announced in the Chinese Academy of Sciences annual conference on Tuesday, January 25.' The liquid-fluoride thorium reactor is an alternative reactor design that 1) burns existing nuclear waste, 2) uses abundant thorium as a base fuel, 3) produces far less toxic, shorter-lived waste than existing designs, and 4) can be mass produced, run unattended for years, and installed underground for safety."
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China Starts Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Project

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  • Go China! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by neiras ( 723124 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:32AM (#35064304)

    I've been running across tantalizing scraps of info about thorium reactors and their supposed advantages for years. I half thought the theory must be questionable (obviously I'm no physicist) largely because if it were so promising, why would thorium designs not be prevalent in Europe or the US?

    This is exciting news. Seems like China is the place to be if you're looking to experiment with new (or old, rediscovered) ideas.

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:41AM (#35064350)
    Especially since we have an estimate 400k tonnes of the stuff at $80/kg mined. I like the fact that this salt bath solution in that it is passively safe in that heat distorts the geometry slowing reaction rates and also they can drain the bath into subcritical loads quite easily (and I'd imagine you could make the drain plug out of a material that would melt above your normal reaction temp but well below critical level).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @02:25AM (#35064578)

    Blame Reagan [].

    Note how in 1980 all non-defense govt r&d dropped precipitously. Then during the 90s when oil dropped to $10/barrel and the free market abandoned alternative energy research, govt had the perfect opportunity to fulfill its role of investing in the kind of long-term disruptive research biz is too short-sighted to do - but govt didn't.

  • Re:Greed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:44AM (#35064902)

    A thorium reactor does not require the expensive hard-to-make enriched uranium fuel rods that conventional pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors do.

    No, it requires special alloys for piping the molten salt (fluorides are still corrosive), may require replacing the graphite moderator every 4 years (keep in mind not to allow moisture to come in contact with the salt, HF is nasty for your pipes no matter what material you'd be using), raises challenges in regards with by-product processing. citation [] if one needs it.

    These guys [] (which played with MSR since '50-es) are saying, while the reactor accident risks are decreased, the processing accident risks are increased (see page 13-15).

  • by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes@xmsn[ ]nl ['et.' in gap]> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:59AM (#35064968)

    The old discussion system (D1) is still available and works correctly.

  • Um.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by crhylove ( 205956 ) <> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:59AM (#35064970) Homepage Journal

    I see a lot of comments stating something negative about environmentalists because we don't have molten salt reactor technology in development. This has not been the fault of environmentalists at all. This is almost purely the fault of the money making machine that is the military industrial complex, wanting to sell the technology they spent so much precious time developing, despite the factor a superior technology was readily available.

    We could have electric cars too, but the patents on many batteries are owned by petroleum industry corporations.

    I never saw an environmentalist with a shirt that said, "Down with molten salt reactors!!!" I'm sure given the choice and scientific evidence, most environmentalists would much more readily opt for that rather than the currently in use nuclear power paradigm.

    Only a few reactionary environmentalists are anti technology. The vast majority of modern environmentalists just want less chemical waste and incidents of cancer. And to save the polar bears, though it's their own hides they should really be defending.

  • by tyrione ( 134248 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @04:44AM (#35065156) Homepage

    If it weren't for the enviro-nuts and not-in-my-backyarders who think electricity magically comes from the socket and not instead from coal plants and the like.

    The entire Atmosphere is electrostatically charged. Coal Plants are a horrific solution. We had a proper Nuclear Solution by Ernesto Fermi back in 1944 with Pebbled-bed Nuclear Power Plants. The source material can always be modified. Don't blame the Environmentalists for a lack of Nuclear Energy. Blame the Atomic Energy Commission's first action--to ban Fermi's work--all because Fermi's work wasn't focused on leveraging fissile materials for weaponry.

  • Re:Go China! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheTurtlesMoves ( 1442727 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:27AM (#35065342)
    In fact they have not been done, not molten salt anyway. Molten salt was done, but with U. Th breeding blankets were done in normal reactors. Th as a fuel additive is done now in a range of rectors. Not much else. The nuclear industry has been stagnant for a very very long time.

    Also U will not run out in 70 years. I really don't know why that number keeps coming up. Its more like 100s without reprocessing and thousands with reprocessing, 10 of thousands with ocean U. Th has about x5 that and *must* be reprocessed since its not a fuel, but fertile. (you breed fuel from it).
  • by lars_stefan_axelsson ( 236283 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:34AM (#35065374) Homepage

    I like the fact that this salt bath solution in that it is passively safe in that heat distorts the geometry slowing reaction rates and also they can drain the bath into subcritical loads quite easily (and I'd imagine you could make the drain plug out of a material that would melt above your normal reaction temp but well below critical level).

    Indeed. You can even make it from the salt itself. Just by cooling a plug of it in the drain. The original US experimental reactor worked that way. A simple fan cooled the drain plug. When the reactor lost power, the fan would stop, the plug would melt and the reactor would stop. That's no theory either, it was how the reactor was routinely shut down during the weekends. They just pulled the plug and went home!

  • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:52AM (#35065730)

    Thursday, Feb. 26, 1998: "The U.S. Department of Energy asked for public comment Thursday on its plans to produce bomb material in a commercial nuclear reactor. DOE is considering three Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear plants for production of tritium, a form of hydrogen gas that intensifies the explosive force of a nuclear warhead. It would be the first time the United States has used a civilian reactor as its source for tritium. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)"

    Except for the above, commercial plants are not producing weapons grade material, it is too much of a security risk.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @07:34AM (#35065970)

    The problem isn't with "plant designs" being subsidized. The problem is with the whole damned industry being subsidized, plant construction, operation, safety, takedown, waste disposal. There isn't a single nuclear plant in the history of the planet that was built, operated and closed down without generous taxpayer handout. Not. A. Single. One. Ever. But we still hear about the "too cheap to measure" nuclear energy, and keep throwing money at it.

  • by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @11:06AM (#35067710)

    This was apparently a factor back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they shut down the experimental LTFR at Oak Ridge, but has certainly not been a factor since about 1980. Then for a long time the climate for new nukes of any kind was so poor that there was no interest in designing new reactors of any kind (in the US), and IMHO an element of sheer inertia was involved as well - there just wasn't much conversation. Since then, a bigger factor has probably been the commercial consideration that the big nuclear industry players make most of their money on making, selling and reprocessing fuel rods, which requires big expensive high tech machinery and extreme security precautions, and so provides a huge barrier to entry of other companies. The LTFR doesn't involve such huge technical and security expertise and infrastructure, so their business will suffer. Therefore the big nuke players have no incentive to go there - rather they would prefer to drag things out as long as possible.

    Of course, a real high tech company realizes that if they don't develop the technology that will replace their core business, somebody else will. So Westinghouse et al _should_ be going full speed on developing the replacement, which certainly looks like LTFR right now (but may not be - we really don't know yet). They may in fact be doing so - I haven't kept up with the literature.

  • by DarenN ( 411219 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @11:55AM (#35068182) Homepage

    Eisenhower - who remains the only US president to reduce military spending. Also coined the phrase "the military/industrial complex".
    Backed the Marshall plan - he hated hitler and the nazi's but ended up quite liking the germans.
    Had another few notable foreign policy acheivements, such as ending the Korean war and refusing point blank to get involved in Vietnam because he knew that the US couldn't win there and besides sympathised with the vietnamese wanting to cast off French rule.
    Was probably the single most popular man in the world due to WWII - he was all but worshipped in Europe, had decent relations with Russian leaders and was largely respected everywhere else.
    Pushed HARD for a common european defence force, but the french nixed that (and de Gaulle insulted him and the American soldiers who'd fought to liberate France). Was the commander in chief of the compromise - NATO.
    He also tried for a worldwide atomic research agency and nuclear weapons treaties with Russia, but that fell apart when the U2 spy plane was shot down in the last months of his presidency. It was one of his great regrets that he authorised that flight, but anti communist fever was sweeping the US at the time and the CIA insisted that they needed it.

    Those that followed undid all his work so quickly it was shameful leading to the 60's which had the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile crisis, the Vietnam war, the nuclear and conventional arms race and numerous other proxy wars. They spent the considerable capital that their soldiers and leaders like Marshall and Eisenhower had built up as if it was water. Shame, really.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?