China has issued operating consent for a recently completed experimental two-megawatt Nuclear Thorium Molten Salt Reactor for electricity generation purposes. The reactor is located in the Gobi Desert city of Wuwei in Gansu province and is operated by the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The Wuwei reactor measures only 3m tall and 2.5m wide and can generate sufficient electricity for a population of 100,000.
Having regard to the world’s determination to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, this technology may offer significant opportunity to mitigate existing emissions via coal fired electricity generation plants. The use of one tonne of Thorium in a reactor would generate energy equivalent to the burning of 3.5 million tonnes of coal.
There is an abundant world-wide Thorium resource estimated at 6.4 million tons. The element is a by-product of the rare-earth mining industry and In its natural form is of low radiation and is not suitable for use in a conventional fission nuclear reactor.
A Dutch Thorium Reactor research program
In very elementary terms, Thorium is converted by way of a Thorium fuel cycle whereby the fertile isotope Thorium 232 is transmuted into Thorium 233 by absorbing a neutron of an external neutron source.
A Thorium Molten Salt Reactor is also able to burn nuclear waste from a nuclear fission reactor (Uranium 238 etc) together with Plutonium and other actinides from spent fuel.
Ordinarily nuclear fission reactors require a very significant and constant supply of water for cooling purposes whereas Thorium Reactors don’t. Thorium fuel is dissolved in a molten fluoride salt solution which acts as a passive cooling system and if the reactor were to over-heat, the liquid fuel auto expands thus slowing down the nuclear reaction and eliminating risk of melt-down.
It is to be hoped that further development of Thorium Reactor technology may hasten the development of large scale infrustructure together with small modular generation plants.
Rejigit has noticed that Thorium Molten Salt Reactor research has been, or is currently being undertaken in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, India, Indonesia, China, France, the Czech Republic, Japan, Russia, Canada, Israel, Denmark etc. It may be too much to expect all researchers to get their shit together and collaborate in the interests of the greater global good but we live in hope.