China's central government has accelerated the development of a novel form of nuclear reactor that runs on thorium fuel rather than on uranium, as part of Premier Li Keqiang's recently declared "war on pollution," according to the South China Morning Post.
Beijing now expects the Shanghai branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to build a liquid thorium reactor within 10 years -- by 2024 -- rather than within 25 years, the story notes, siting remarks from Professor Li Zhong, a scientist working on the project.
generation emits neither environmentally damaging CO2 nor the
pollutants that are smothering Chinese cities. New reactor types like
those that run on liquid thorium fuel augur
advances in nuclear safety, economics and usefulness, when compared to the conventional solid uranium-fueled models that have defined the global nuclear industry for its 50-plus years. They also
portend a great reduction in nuclear "waste" and in the
threat of weapons proliferation.
It's not clear whether the 2024 target does indeed represent a ramp-up. As I reported last November on my Weinberg blog, China, with the environment in mind, was already eying 2024 for a small pilot version of the reactor and was scheduling 2035 for a bigger "demonstrator" model. It had not committed to an actual live production year. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) article does not state whether 2024 now represents the year in which the liquid thorium reactors would start service, although that is implied.
China is also developing other alternative reactors, including an unconventional design that uses thorium fuel shaped into solid pebble form rather than in traditional fuel rods. As of November, developers were to complete the pebble bed model before the liquid one.
"In the past the government was interested in nuclear power because of the energy shortage," said Professor Li. "Now they are more interested because of smog." The SCMP also noted that:
Researchers working on the project said they were under unprecedented "war-like" pressure to succeed and some of the technical challenges they faced were difficult, if not impossible to solve in such a short period.
Jiang Mianheng, the Chinese official (and son of China's former president Jiang Zemin) who has headed the country's thorium reactor development, has said China wants to use the reactors not only for electricity, but also as a source of clean heat for high temperature industrial processes which today consume massive amounts of fossil fuels.
Molten salt and pebble bed reactors run safely at much higher temperatures than do conventional reactors, making them suitable as heat sources for operations like cement and steel making, oil processing, hydrogen production and others (incidentally, Premier Li's pollution fight includes abandoning outdated, dirty steel production methods). U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz recently encouraged the use of reactors for such industrial processes.
The alternative reactor types can also run on uranium fuel. China should have a ready-made supply of thorium, which is a byproduct of some of the many rare earth metals that China actively mines and sells. China dominates the planet's rare earth market.
The rare earth-thorium connection has inspired two U.S. senators to propose a bill that would boost domestic rare earth mining while at the same time establishing storage for thorium as a future energy source.
Photo is by Mark Halper
Meanwhile, the latest from Japan and a few other countries
Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K.
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Shari Filll & CapitalCity EcoRunner You need to read about Thorium reactors, because You don't know sh*t. If Thorium had been used from the beginning, there wouldn't be a catastrophy in Chernobyl or Fukushima. Melting the reactor core, if it's even posible, would be very hard. But USA wanted to have nuclear weaponry, which they could build with uranium waste. And now uneducated people like You, are writing stupid comments, when they see 'nuclear' or 'atomic'.
Advanced nuclear like this is especially important to provide the heat needed for processing billions of tons of materials we now need to protect ocean chemistry before extinctions begin in years, not decades...
The toxic dump known as China, is now dipping into the nuclear program! Oh great! That's all we need! Instead of "Fukishima", it will be FuckedupChina! We really need another nuclear meltdown by another incompetent country!
Hearing that thorium reactors work at temperatures necessary for steel making is really exciting... Just think, how do they propose to contain the reactor contents if it's hotter than molten steel? Presumably, even if ceramic lined, super alloy vessels are used, these vessels will need to be actively cold to maintain their strength. So, when THAT cooling system fails things really will get EXCITING.
And let's not forget to appreciate how safe these reactors and the thorium fuel cycle is - and why. The thorium reactor cycle is supposed to be particularly safe with respect to nuclear proliferation because the reactor contents are so intensely radioactive that just looking at the stuff will promptly kill any would be proliferator. Now, imagine if you will what will happen the first time one of these babies leaks. Cleanup crews won't be able to get even close to the damn thing. Look what happened at Fukushima, where that old U235, easily accessible cycle was being used before a couple of the reactors melted. It is going to be DECADES before anyone other than a robot is going to get even a close look at that radioactive slag. If one of these radioactively "super hot" reactors leaks (you know, it could happen...) our civilization may end before we dare open the door and see what happened.
This is just another dumb idea by the nuclear industry that habitually ignores low probability potentially catastrophic system level failure modes. Whether it is non existent containment structures at Chernobyl, inadequate operator training and supervision at Three Mile Island, or "cheap and cheerful" tsunami protection at Fukushima, the nuclear industry has demonstrated over and over that they are incapable of doing things right when it comes to managing low probability, catastrophic risks. Giving these "children" a new set of "matches" to play with is the height of societal stupidity.
Too little, too late because the irreversible uncontrolled Climate Change threshold has probably been passed with the best mankind can now do is to slow what religious nuts calls the "end times" which restore our numbers to what they were two millennia ago. However, thorium nuclear is at least something.
Now that if has officially gone into an anti-smog, anti-pollution war mode, one can also suspect China has made plans for other emergency measures in the event their experiment fails or takes longer than a decade or two before the first -- first -- of the projected new thorium power plants come onto being, namely a science-created wholesale population culling disease that knocks China's -- and the world's -- population to what it was two thousand years ago or longer. Once faced with reality Chinese leaders are, if nothing else, pragmatic. And the rest of the world's leaders will by that time be equally pragmatic and follow suit or at least not get in China's way.
A fictional science fiction film "No Blade of Grass" in which industrial chemicals have blended to create a disease that wipes out all vegetation for a year as it quickly spreads worldwide, China examines its food stocks that will last until after the disease passes and new vegetation reappears (sees apparently were not affected), counts the number of people it can feed for that year, and uses nuclear weapons to wipe out its cities that cannot be fed: Pragmatic.
Although this is great news, though I do worry deeply about the quality of breakneck rushed research (esp. nuclear).....
... I'm not remotely sure how this tallies with the pretty misleading headline strap-line of "Emergency pollution measures".
An emergency pollution measure would self evidently be to shut a pile of coal fired stations off immediately, and have some scheduled power cuts/blackouts, and industry go down to a 3 day working - as per 1970's oil crisis and coal strike in the UK, as any Thorium generation would still be years off - the accelerated target delivery date of 2024 (a decade!!) as the article says when it comes down to mucky reality.
"Researchers working on the project said they were under unprecedented "war-like" pressure to succeed and some of the technical challenges they faced were difficult, if not impossible to solve in such a short period."
Folks, this reactor was done back in 1965 thru 1969 (with 60's tech) at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, USA. Any search on "Thorium Reactor" will give you the details. There are no "impossible" tech challenges outside of scaling this reactor. Let's get past the rhetoric and make it happen.
Nuclear accidents represent low probability, LOW consequence events, relative to other energy source concsequences. The 50+ year record, as well as Fukushima, clearly shows that. Fukushiima, the only significant release of pollution in non-Soviet nuclear's entire history, caused no deaths and is projected to have no measurable public health impact. Fossil fueled power generation causes hundreds of thousands of deaths annually (i.e., ~1000 every single day), in addition to global warming. Even the most pessimistic, theoretical estimates of total eventual health impacts from Fukushima are far less than those caused DAILY by fossil-fueled power generation. As for economic impacts, Fukushima's (~$100 billion) economic cost is lower than the economic cost inflicted annually by fossil fuel pollution.
Given the industry's vastly superior record (vs. other energy sources and industries), the characterization of nuclear professionals as "children with matches" is disgusting. A better analogy to "giving children matches" would have to be the internet, which allows baseless, ignorant and downright childish points of view to be given a wide audience.
The reason for proliferation resistance is not due to intense radioactivity, but the fact that no plutonium is involved. Thorium reactor contents are no more radioactive than uranium reactors'. Also, a reactor doesn't have to be as hot as molten steel to be useful for steel making. How could any energy source (including whatever they're using now) be that hot? These reactors will be designed to take the temperatures that they will run at. And no, higher outlet temperatures, with the nominal reactor configuration, do not necessarily correspond to larger releases in the event of an accident, or higher temperatures (or radiaiton levels) in the melted configuration.
Given that the reactor contents will be in the form of a liquid, the radioactive elements will be continually removed, resulting in a far lower core inventory of radioactive isotopes such as Cs-137. The potential downside is that, in the event of a meltdown, various isotopes will not be as confined, by the liquid, as they are by the (current) ceramic fuel pellets and cladding. Also, the reactor's inherent physical properties make a meltdown much less likely, as active cooling may not even be necessary.
@z2217 Yah Rudy... I can get 1 for two names, You are baffled. Your first post is mostly nonsense >>> reactor contents are so intensely radioactive that just looking at the stuff will promptly kill any would be proliferator.>>> and your second post is a mishmash... "No blade of grass" made no mention of industrial chemicals causing the disease that effected grasses, not all vegetation. You memory is as bad as your reasoning. Humanity faces scary stuff, but spewing nonsense is not going to help.
Largely agree with you, but Irreversible Climate Change is just a fundamentally wrong thing to assert. Look to the history of the planet, and it has been massively toxic, horrible and assaulted from space, Ice Ages and with global affecting volcanic incidents - it always recovers, or (for the statisticians) regresses to the mean ;-)
Climate change is a fact, it always happens, and always will happen - the real question for us is how much we are affecting it, and how much is it going to change out planet for the worse or with different weather, from the place we start and have built our society around.
@a1swdeveloper @z2217 You might and probably are right about only grass -- it has been more than three decades since I saw the film "No Blade of Grass" but as for the rest of your comments referring to z2217 as being me, I never use anything but my name to sign a comment: Unlike most, including you, I am not afraid to use my correct name -- even when I intentionally write contrarian comments just to provoke thought and reaction. I accept your apology in advance.
@Kevin D. Jackson@Hal_9001 The technical challenges are that there are various ways to do it. The rather conventional ways (think Oakridge) or by mixing the fuel is not too difficult and is currently being tested in... Norway or there abouts. There are more exotic methods like the molten salt one that is really spiffy, but we do not have the materials technology for yet... Really hot stuff. I'm not sure where the pebble bed fits in as far as technical difficulty, but I have heard of good things about it