Long-time Slashdot reader WindBourne
tipped us off to some news from The South China Morning Post:
China is to spend 22 billion yuan (US$3.3 billion) trying to perfect a form of technology largely discarded in the cold war which could produce a safer but more powerful form of nuclear energy. The cash is to develop two "molten salt" reactors in the Gobi Desert in northern China. Researchers hope that if they can solve a number of technical problems the reactors will lead to a range of applications, including nuclear-powered warships and drones. The technology, in theory, can create more heat and power than existing forms of nuclear reactors that use uranium, while producing only one thousandth of the radioactive waste. It also has the advantage for China of using thorium as its main fuel. China has some of the world's largest reserves of the metal...
The reactors use molten salt rather than water as a coolant, allowing them to create temperatures of over 800 degrees Celsius, nearly three times the heat produced by a commercial nuclear plant fuelled with uranium. The superhot air has the potential to drive turbines and jet engines and in theory keep a bomber flying at supersonic speed for days.
One Beijing researcher says these drones "would serve as a platform for surveillance, communication or weapon delivery
to deter nuclear and other threats from hostile countries." He asked not to be named, but provided one more advantage for a nuclear-powered drone flying at high-altitudes over the ocean.
"It will also have more public acceptance. If an accident happens, it crashes into the sea."