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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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  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:21AM (#35064254)

    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.

    • by profplump ( 309017 ) <> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:26AM (#35064268)

      Well that and the conflation of defense-industry nuclear materials production with energy production -- thorium reactors are almost certainly better for generating power, but they don't help you build nuclear bombs, so they get less funding (or at least they have historically).

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by steelfood ( 895457 )

        Off topic, but with this new layout, GP is modded 2, while parent is modded 5, but GP shows up minimized and parent (modded 5!) doesn't even show up without first expanding GP.

        These are the default settings (the slider even says 1 full), but none of the comments are showing up as full.

        • by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:59AM (#35064968)

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

        • Indeed it is off-topic. We appear to have a bug in a moderator who has marked it "informative." There's yer problem.

        • Even worse... (Score:3, Informative)

          by RichiH ( 749257 )

          Even worse... When someone replies to you and you click that great little email informing you of this fact, you can end up with everything collapsed, i.e. your comment _and_ the reply, unless your own comment gathered enough points.

          But then, /. never reacted to any of my emails concerning design so this will probably stay as it is :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Also when you get an email advising you of a reply to a comment you posted the link now takes you to the root post with all the replies collapsed. You can press "w" a few times to expand them and then have to hunt through to find your post and its reply. The old system just took you to the reply.

          I am losing the will to respond to replies now.

          • The old system works fine, you know?

            • by Thing 1 ( 178996 )
              What, is this Slashdot competing with Facebook for user frustration in constantly-changing default settings? You wanna introduce something new, do it for new users, and give me an explanation of how to change my settings to the new shiny. Don't break my experience. I agree with GP, I'm losing the will to respond to replies and that is rather tragic, it reduces discourse.
        • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @08:15AM (#35066192) Homepage
          The worst part is that when a non-root reply is minimized, you can neither see its score (to differentiate the 5s from the -1, Trolls), nor that there are dozens of replies under it. I compliained about this in the original "hey look at our cool new webby thing" thread. The only thing that ever got fixed was putting underlines back on web links, but that was so bad that I was hardly the only one complaining, and it would have been only a CSS change anyhow.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by sharkbiter ( 266775 )

        Umm, err... Yes, sodium cooled reactors are perfectly safe. Just look at

        Perfectly safe, using liquid metal...

        (Yeah, I'm cherry picking here but I really hate the fact that I had to dig deep to find that there are several incidents around the world concerning liquid metal cooled nuclear power plants and the fact that the mainstream "green" media chooses to ignore them.)

        Perhaps some kind and stati

      • by tyrione ( 134248 )

        Well that and the conflation of defense-industry nuclear materials production with energy production -- thorium reactors are almost certainly better for generating power, but they don't help you build nuclear bombs, so they get less funding (or at least they have historically).

        Correct. Fermi's work was the first action banned as I wrote above by the formation of the Atomic Energy Commission just for what you mentioned.

      • 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 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 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 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 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.

    • by Pontiac ( 135778 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @03:18AM (#35064800) Homepage

      Try where we WERE years ago..
      FFTF was a sodium cooled reactor built at Hanford in 1982 and run until 1992 []

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Check the MSRE at ORNL too.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by tyrione ( 134248 )

      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.

    • by thsths ( 31372 )

      This is where we were decades ago. In the 70's the western world had a (trial) Thorium pile reactor, an (experimental) HTR reactor, and there were plans for a lithium cooled reactor (with some valid safety and material concerns).

      All of these projects died a slow death. Some say because they do not breed plutonium, some say because the they were not profitable, some say because the industry is conservative and sticks with the first design that works.

      I have no doubt that this is an excellent opportunity for

    • Huh? We should have been what years ago already? I am sure you are aware that the US did build a couple of experimental thorium reactors many years ago.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @10:14AM (#35067074) Homepage Journal

      Well, having low prices for petroleum, coal and natural gas after the 1970s *might* have had something to do with the collapse of the US nuclear industry.

      Seriously, just how paranoid do you have to be to believe in an environmental lobby that can prevail against any industry that sees big, quick bucks to be made? How out of touch with what environmentalists actually think do you have to be to believe they *don't* know coal is involved in generating electricity?

      Environmentalists who are concerned with energy generally want two things: (1) greater efficiency and (2) sustainably renewable energy sources. These also happen to be good things if you are interested in national economic security.

      Renewable energy sources are where we'll be in the long run anyhow, because sustainability is, well, *unsustainable*. Unsustainability per se is not a long term problem, because it is a self-correcting problem. The problems with non-sustainable practices are all the things we end up doing to keep the status quo running just a little bit longer; the external costs we dump on the society and the planet because we are facing problems we don't know how to fix in a decade, much less overnight. Deepwater Horizon was an example of that. We pushed our capability to the limit, and because the margins at the limit aren't as generous as we'd like we cut corners.

      This problem is exacerbated by the unwillingness of people to think ahead. People equate thinking ahead with doom and gloom. When they fix a problem, they want it to be fixed forever, even if that's unreasonable. If we planned ahead, we could use nuclear power to help us transition from petroleum.The first bite of a non-sustainable practice is the least environmentally costly. But we have trouble not taking the next bite, and the bite after that, until we've used it all up.

      What would happen if we decided to pursue nuclear as bridge to future sustainable energy production? I think very quickly people would view this as a new status quo that will last forever. They won't think about decommissioning, waste disposal an fuel supply problems that are two or three decades in the future. Oh, they'll pay lip service to these things, but then go ahead and build plants on a scale that ignores these coming problems. The urge build our way out of our short term problems will be almost irresistible. If we succeed in building our way out of our short term problems, energy efficiency will go out the window because we'll consider our problems solved forever.

      Nonetheless, I think we *should* increase our use of nuclear power. We'll probably need to increase our use of natural gas and (ugh) coal. There will be millions spent lobbying to choose one of these technologies and treat it as a silver bullet (which none of them will be). We just have to accept that's a fight we'll have to have, because having failed to convince people to look ahead forty years ago, we can't just wag our finger at them and say, "See? This is what we said was going to happen, even if in the short term oil prices went down." You don't win people over by rubbing their nose in their being wrong.

      The important thing is to move to a diversified portfolio of energy sources, and electricity generation is key to this. As any single energy source becomes economically or environmentally non-viable, we won't be faced with the end of civilization as we know it. This will also be a bridge to a sustainable energy future. As each non-sustainable energy source drops out, consumers will economize and economically marginal energy sources (e.g. photovoltaics) will attract more private investment.

  • by LoverOfJoy ( 820058 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:28AM (#35064276) Homepage

    So is it our turn now to steal their patents?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, we did run this in Oak Ridge back in the day - it is the high temp/no-flex materials that were the problem, in that they didn't exist.

    • Being willing to violate their patents isn't going to do a damned thing if everybody's too adverse to doing so to begin with. Copying blueprints is just a copyright violation. You actually have to build something to violate a patent.

    • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:12AM (#35065514)

      I don't about the rest of the people around here, but I get really weary of all the snide remarks, sometimes.

      Wherever we live in the world, and whatever you think of the Chinese government, should we not be able to be glad on behalf of the Chinese? And for ourselves too - because the West are not going to let China just run away with the full benefits of developing this technology; and it is going to do us all a lot of good.

      So let us all be glad, and not too petty to congratulate others for achieving things.

      • We should be glad that the only way to get this decades-old technology is for China to do it first...?

        The fact that the USA is spending all its money on wars and bailouts instead of leading the world forwards is shameful. Whatever happened to the 1950's/1960's America that the entire world looked to and admired?

        • Whatever happened to the 1950's/1960's America that the entire world looked to and admired?

          Stopped being level headed civil and technology leader and started being paranoid military boss. Right around the 60's. But continued Hollywood propaganda. Bush got rid of the Hollywood niceties and overtly rubbed military in the world's face. Nobody liked it, and eight years of it followed by a couple of massive economic meltdowns sealed fate. The world has changed, momentum is gained in multiple-power-centers world politics, and allied with the speed of technology, the future is changing faster and mor

  • ... for the "China syndrome"?
  • 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.

    • Re:Go China! (Score:5, Informative)

      by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:45AM (#35064366)
      They aren't prevalent because the commercial nuclear industry grew largely out of the military industry which needed two things, fuel for bombs and small light reactors for ships and submarines.
      • Do you think it's an economic issue? That is, it's still cheaper to use up fossil fuels and the like than to invest in nuclear? Or is it, as lots of others point it, a lot of NIMBY-ism and stifling regulations? Or maybe the lobbies and economy power of the existing power industries are blocking the advancement of this kind of technology?

      • That doesn't explain why countries without a nuclear weapons program haven't gone that way. For example, Canada and Germany gave up nuclear weapons ambitions decades ago, but they both have the technology to build nuclear reactors, and they export those reactors to other countries.

        • by gtall ( 79522 )

          Curiously enough, both are under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. And yet they persist in not building their own, who'd of thunk?

    • Awesome! Now there's some technology worth stealing for the US. Let's see how they react when everyone starts stealing technology from them.
    • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

      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?

      Predominately because it doesn't produce weapons grade material as a daughter product. Our atomic industry is based on the capability to produce weapons from our energy industry.

      Thorium reactors could be good *if*

      • You're comparing nuclear physics of the 1960s with modern nuclear physics...?

        Maybe you need a refresher course on the problems the early Uranium reactors had due to lack of physics knowledge, eg windscale []

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Several answers, but it mostly in the USA it comes down to planning to get money from legacy designs and fleece the taxpayer instead of doing new research. Since the customer is always a government there has been almost no effort to produce something economically viable and practicality takes a back seat to influence. That is why the US nuclear industry has spent far more on lobbying than R&D. Eventually startups and overseas innovation will produce something useful and dinosaurs such as Westinghouse
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I think it boils down to the development costs. In the West no everyone is convinced that nuclear is the long term solution and so it is hard to get funding to develop a new system like this. Why spend money when you can just keep building the same reactors and pay lip service to renewable?

      In China they see greener energy production has a huge opportunity to sell their technology to other countries. The fact that this type of reactor is not useful in the production of weapons or nuclear powered ships/subs a

    • Thank Clinton for canceling the US's advanced reactor research programs back in the mid 90s -- all part of his "trying to appease everybody" platform.

    • Start with Wikipedia (Score:5, Informative)

      by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @11:10AM (#35067760)

      Wikipedia now has a dozen or so informative articles on Molten Salt Reactors, Liquid Thorium Fluoride Reactors, etc. It's a good place to start. There is a website supporting the LFTR: Energy From Thorium []. I note that I believe a lot of the PR out there regarding thorium is produced by a company that presently owns a huge percentage of the mining rights to thorium deposits in the US. Which is fine by me. :)

  • Initiated. (Score:2, Informative)

    by noobermin ( 1950642 )

    Note the stub says they have initiated R&D. Not that they have a plan or design, etc.

    Also one of the more annoying things mentioned on that page are their intention to maintain IP over it. Sigh...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by hedwards ( 940851 )

      You mean they've initiated plans to steal most of the necessary designs from somebody else then plug whatever the remaining holes are.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gmaslov ( 1983830 )
        That is how progress is made. I think the relevant quotes are "shoulders of giants", "those who ship, win", and possibly even "shit or get off the pot".
    • You mean like how China has Siemens install a maglev train "Tester". Then puts the full project on hold until China can reverse engineer it, then tells Siemens, no thanks, we are gonna make our own.
      Or how they steal the military tech from EU and US?
      Or how they try to reverse engineer Intel kit?

      Who the fuck cares about Chinese IP law? If they build it and it works, we steal the fucking plans.

      • The funny part is that China does not register its inventions in China, instead they just get US Patents office patents. So it is the US IP law that they are using to cut off competition from US ;)

    • by RichiH ( 749257 )

      > Also one of the more annoying things mentioned on that page are their intention to maintain IP over it. Sigh...

      So, after the West hammering them over IP, once they start enforcing it everyone is shocked that they are not using it in the way that the West profits.

  • by l0ungeb0y ( 442022 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:38AM (#35064332) Homepage Journal

    We now face a Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor gap.
    However Jimmy from Cub Scout Den 561 assures us that our nation's Sugar Crystal Nucleation Reactors are operating at optimal conditions.

  • ARGH (Score:3, Insightful)

    by magus_melchior ( 262681 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:39AM (#35064334) Journal

    This is infuriating. While the oil and coal shills in Congress and the conservative propaganda networks insist global warming is not real, and while the Greens refuse to have anything to do with nukes, China will be light-years ahead of us in technology.

    • by pizzach ( 1011925 ) <> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @02:06AM (#35064476) Homepage

      The US can probably just install a virus into their computers to make the plants worthless. The US might be labeled as terrorists for doing something so dangerous, but it is a small price to pay to hold the temporary status quo.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by taiwanjohn ( 103839 )

        Not sure it's necessarily bad for the US if China has this technology. The more energy they get from nukes, the less China will compete for oil on the int'l market.

        • by mccrew ( 62494 )
          Respectfully disagree that this technology will reduce competition for oil.

          Nuclear technology is used for producing electricity. China relies primarily for coal to fuel its electrical generation capability. All else equal, the introduction of nuclear technology would serve to displace coal, and have little or no effect on oil consumption.

          Oil and its refined products are primarily a transportation fuel (and secondarily as a heating fuel). Oil demand in China is skyrocketing with the fast growing econo

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by paesano ( 784687 )
      ...and it's even more infuriating that the lefties forced us to abandon practical forms of energy (like nuclear) some 30+ years ago using the same fear tactics that they are now using to get us to waste our time on windmills and solar farms. Speaking as a conservative, and for most of the conservatives that I know, I'd love to see us move in the same direction as China. Just please, please don't try to scare me with stories of how the sky is falling. Talk to me about limited natural resources and the nee
      • by RichiH ( 749257 )

        Those damn fear tactics like "No one has the slightest clue how to safely store of what current atomic reactors produce" and "as producers, we are responsible to find solutions that will work for as long as this stuff is active". Damn them!

        And yes, I am looking forward to thorium, as well. Have been for years.

    • by jambox ( 1015589 )
      Yeah that's the problem with democracy I guess. All the debating and rules just provide gaps for people with money to climb into and chip away. Nice monolithic Chinese authoritarianism is the way to go, so say I. Or at least; those are the stakes. If US democracy is allowed to fail then the developing world will surely follow suit.
    • by Fzz ( 153115 )
      While I prefer to live in what passes for a democracy, sometimes it's good to be in competition with countries like China that have different ways of doing things. Once a promising technology is developed, it tends to spread everywhere. Some technologies seem to be most successfully developed under the political/economic system in the West. The Internet comes to mind. But some may be better developed under the political/economic system in China, or other places. But wherever a technology is first devel
  • by blankinthefill ( 665181 ) <> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:51AM (#35064396) Journal
    Westerners believe that footage from The China Syndrome ( is passed off as actual working footage of the reactor. Ironically, the footage is real.
  • by afabbro ( 33948 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @02:11AM (#35064510) Homepage
    ...I've initiated a research and development initiative into warp core design.
  • I quote from the OP link:

    "The main task of this meeting are: to take Deng Xiaoping Theory and "Three Represents" as guidance, comprehensively implement the scientific concept of development, conscientiously study and implement the Congress, seventh session of the Fifth Plenum and the Central Economic Work Conference, in-depth study and implementation of the central leading comrades academicians important speech on the General Assembly, in-depth implementation of the State Council executive meeting of the sp

  • 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.

    • I think liberals and conservatives of every stripe would rather spend money on stuff like this than on another war in the middle east for oil. Very few people alive right now see that as anything more than a silly, inevitably futile agenda as the oil WILL run out at some point regardless of who's standing at the nozzle.

      • by ianare ( 1132971 )

        You seem to forget that in the run-up to the war, opinions were in favor of it, with conservatives being strongly supportive.

    • I live on the California central coast. We have a nuclear power plant [] operating here. There is a large group of enviromentalists that are currently doing their best to impede, delay, and otherwise ruin the re-licensing and upgrading of the power plant. (Effectively, if they block the license process long enough, the plant will simply shut down as it will cost too much money to keep up the legal hearings). The group is known as Mothers for Peace, you can find their website with a simple google search (look
    • Re:Um.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by greg_barton ( 5551 ) <> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @01:47PM (#35069684) Homepage Journal

      On the whole environmentalists are not anti technology, but there is a definite strain of anti nuclear bias. I'm about as left wing as they come, and when I talk nukes to my lefty friends there are almost universal blank/glassy stares back at me.

      I don't disagree with you at all about resistance from the right. The main problem with nuclear is that it gets hit rom all sides.

  • Gentlemen, the Russian Ambassador has told us the Communists have the Thorium G Bomb -- and it's powered with **fluoride** yet another communist conspiracy!

    Seriously, Dr Strangelove was right. And the melamine for our precious

  • Research and development in the fields of LED lamps, new thermal insulation materials for walls, windows, etc., car weight reduction and so on and so forth would be much more effective way to produce energy by reducing consumption.

  • Wake me up when we finally have fusion in Livermore, CA.

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous