China Initiates Thorium MSR Project

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 (CAS) annual conference on Tuesday, January 25. An article in the Wenhui News followed on Wednesday (Google English translation). Chinese researchers also announced this development on the Energy from Thorium Discussion Forum.

Led by Dr. Jiang Mianheng, a graduate of Drexel University in electrical engineering, the thorium MSR efforts aims not only to develop the technology but to secure intellectual property rights to its implementation.

This may be one of the reasons that the Chinese have not joined the international Gen-IV effort for MSR development, since part of that involves technology exchange. Neither the US nor Russia have joined the MSR Gen-IV effort either.

A Chinese delegation led by Dr. Jiang travelled to Oak Ridge National Lab last fall to learn more about MSR technology and told lab leadership of their plans to develop a thorium-fueled MSR.

The Chinese also recognize that a thorium-fueled MSR is best run with uranium-233 fuel, which inevitably contains impurities (uranium-232 and its decay products) that preclude its use in nuclear weapons. Operating an MSR on the “pure” fuel cycle of thorium and uranium-233 means that a breakeven conversion ratio can be achieved, and after being started on uranium-233, only thorium is required for indefinite operation and power generation.

Currently there is no US effort to develop a thorium MSR. Readers of this blog and Charles Barton’s Nuclear Green blog know that there has been a grass-roots effort underway for over five years to change this. The formation of the Thorium Energy Alliance and the International Thorium Energy Organization have been attempts to convince governmental and industrial leaders to carefully consider the potential of thorium in a liquid-fluoride reactor. There have been many international participants in the TEA and IThEO conferences, but none from China.

Chinese energy demand is growing rapidly, and despite the world’s largest campaign of new nuclear construction, the vast majority of Chinese power generation still comes from fossil fuels. China has abundant supplies of coal, but their combustion has led to some of the worst air quality in the world. The ability of thorium MSRs to operate at atmospheric pressure and with simplified safety systems means that these reactors could be built in factories and mass-produced. They could then be shipped to operational sites with standard transportation. Their thorium fuel is compact and inexpensive. Chinese rare-earth miners have been rumored to have been stockpiling thorium from rare-earth mining for years, and if this is true, the Chinese will have hundreds of thousands of years of thorium already mined and available for use.

The Chinese now have the largest national effort to develop thorium molten-salt reactors. Whether other nations will follow is an open question.

41 thoughts on “China Initiates Thorium MSR Project

  1. Chinese are working on fusion reactors too…

    China claims fusion reactor test a success
    Governments hope fusion provides clean, limitless energy source


    BEIJING — Scientists on Thursday carried out China's first successful test of an experimental fusion reactor, powered by the process that fuels the sun, a research institute spokeswoman said.

    China, the United States and other governments are pursuing fusion research in hopes that it could become a clean, potentially limitless energy source. Fusion produces little radioactive waste, unlike fission, which powers conventional nuclear reactors.

    Beijing is eager for advances, both for national prestige and to reduce its soaring consumption of imported oil and dirty coal.

    The test by the government's Institute of Plasma Physics was carried out on a Tokamak fusion device in the eastern city of Hefei, said Cheng Yan, a spokeswoman at the institute.

    Cheng said the test was considered a success because the reactor produced plasma, a hot cloud of supercharged particles. She wouldn't give other details.

    "This represents a step for humankind in the study of nuclear reaction," she said.

    U.S. and other scientists have been experimenting with fusion for decades but it has yet to be developed into a viable energy alternative.

    ."I think it is a considerable step ahead for China," said Karl Heinz Finken, a senior scientist at the Institute for Plasma Physics in Juelich, Germany, who had no role in the Chinese research.

    "China is speeding up with the development of nuclear fusion and I think at the moment they are making considerable progress," he said.

  2. So from now, the development of LFTR, is no longer something that can be influenced by the lobbying of anti-nuclear protesters to governments that either need to appease electors or can be threatened or bought off by multinational energy corporations. China is powerful enough, confident enough and self-interested enough to simply shrug these off.

    The West now has a gun to their heads. Get there first or get left behind. That may be uncomfortable but turn out to be just what we need.

  3. @Shubham, India only has major expertise with thorium fast-breeder reactors. This is very different from thorium thermal spectrum/thermal breeder reactors, especially molten salt types such as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

    This also means they use very awkward thorium fuel cycles based around thorium and uranium-plutonium solid fuels. It has almost no cross-over to thermal spectrum thorium-uranium-233 fuel cycle.

    The only strong reason the Indian thorium initiative was continued due to the blockade by the West of selling nuclear technology to India since it has not signed the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, the US recently lifted their blockade so the immediate need for thorium technology will decrease as external vendors step in to provide "at cost" nuclear power plants and lock in lucrative fuel sales contracts.

    China is now widely considered the only country in the world which has a non-trivial commitment to Thorium Molten Salt Reactors.

  4. Ordinary energy is efficiently left under private industry operation because from discovery to first large revenues, usually ten years elapse: This is a good business model.
    To the contrary, nuclear energy economic environment differs a lot from the above:
    * Very long investment / revenues cycles, typically 40 years, are at full odds with more and more short termist finance behaviour. Shall a CEO propose a massive bnuclear energy investment, he would be fired on the spot for not putting priority to WallStreet stock of his Company and his managers' stock-options.
    * Ecolo-marxist "environmentalists" have no other target than depleting Western world development ambitions from inside, by demolishing any moral value and spreading vastly wrong nuclear fears across population, hoping a poll landslide against nuclear anytime: As the central conductor of this demolish program was in Kremlin during cold war, that Kremlin motivation faded out in 1984, we can conclude that present ecolo-marxists are an active lobby from fossile motivations..
    * In some large countries, the elected local juridictions de facto help ecolo-marxists to protect their re-election…
    * Those who should have debated against these Middle-Aged belief – the western governments – failed their mission (long term wealth of the Country) by pure short term electoralist covardice, a matter unprecedented in the past ! Imagin present western leaders facing 1941 Hitler & imperial Japan aggressions: Are we sure they would have selected to fight?
    * The only existing electricity nuclear programs lay in the few countries having had strong government convictions decades ago. Today, there is not a single strong western government in power, they are all slaves of media polls.
    * Political parties work exclusively for their benefits (get in power, hire their guys, become rich and overall leaving unfixed problems to successors…): This is NOT the Democracy we all want)
    * China is not a democratic country (as per our standards) and escapes the present no-exit way into which West is engaged. Their leaders do not suffer from twisted media polls, no ecolo-western environmentalists, in other words they have free hands to build the future of China.
    * China will massively switch to environmental-clean nuclear energy, good geological waste storage, recycling trans-uranians, keeping their coal for long term chemistry ore.
    * Our western societies will do nothing for next 50 years, excepts short term finance profits which will unavoidably lead to a global no-return collpase

  5. As an ex GE nuclear engineer who always thoughr the mollten fuel reactor concept was an obvious nobraner, I am glad ro see this finally developing on a commercial track.In 20 years I expect China to be exclusively building this supertor nuclear technology and not current western designs and be the leader in nuclear led green energy solutions.Expect France, Russia, India (in that order) to follow and then much later the US.

  6. Once upon a time, in a city named Stuttgart in a country of Germany, fine ladies and gentlemen about the year 1900 drove around in electric vehicles, utilizing lead-acid accumulators. The vehicles were quiet and clean, and also very elegant. In the USA, whale oil for lamps was beginning to become scarce, and so paraffin oil from the Earth become the solution to the lack of whale oil, so people had lighting in the evenings and at night in their oil lamps. The light oil factions from such Earth oil exploration were a problem and resulted in frequent fires at small oil rigs. One sunny day, an innovative gentle named Henry Ford developed an invention, namely the model-T Ford, which burnt up these light dangerous flammable oil factions. The model-T Fords were initially dirty, unreliable and noisy. Gradually, the electric vehicles disappeared and the automotive industry became dominated by later innovations derived from the model-T Ford. The model-T Ford made the light oil factions valuable by creating a market in which there was demand. Had oil not been plentifully available, the elegant electric automobiles of Stuttgart would have evolved and the World would be driving around in clean quiet electric vehicles with associated infrastructure in place for battery charging.

    A parallel can be drawn in respect of conventional Uranium nuclear power and Thorium LFTR. Throium LFTR could have been the workhorse for contemporary energy generation instead of solid-fuel Uranium nuclear systems. However, a spurious event (i.e. Plutonium for nuclear bombs) shaped events in a manner which is sub-optimal in the longer term. Fukushima and Chernobyl should come as pertinent reminders of this.

    Thus, like those elegant ladies and gentlemen in Stuttgart riding around in their clean, quiet and elegant electric automobiles, we should embrace the elegance and attractiveness of Thorium LFTR as our future energy companion for transporting us through the labrinth of paths which human civilization can take in the future.
    The Princess (i.e. Thorium LFTR) was saved, and everyone lived happily ever after.

    The End

  7. Head of Chinese LFTR program, Jiang Mianheng, was recently stripped of post as Vice President of Chinese Academy of Sciences November of last year. He got caught up in massive bribery and the embezzlement scandal involving stock trades and misallocation of public funds. Ooops, anybody have any information on how this impacts research program?

  8. The biggest problem with all the fusion experiments and reactors that I have seen is not the fact that we can't do it, it's the fact that we can't do it efficiently enough with a high enough energy out put. And to be honest, I don't see commercial fusion this side of 2030. I'd love to be proved wrong, but…

    And does any one know how NIF is getting it's energy? A LFTR there would do wonders I think…

  9. Please open your eyes: After two short design decades, Th-MSR is almost on par with 7-decade LWR design, the latter now in a dead end in the sense that most of water disadvantages lead to most of capital cost: Pressure, ability to propagate fission wastes in Nature in two forms (liquid and gaseous), hydrogen generation, and so on…

    Western nuclear authorities are like old fossils: Since 1969 they have not changed their mind despite world changes (anti-proliferation has not prevented Sept-11th, necessity to produce weapon grade Plutonium) and they are not open to new concepts. Only one country in the world has so far been a while able to recognize having taken a wrong road map: France in 1969 switching to US LWR technology; From then, fossilized too.

    New Countries, China, Korea, Brazil, India have now taken over the world Innovation token and in a couple of decades all western nations will buy licences from them….!

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