THORIUM – A FUEL THAT COULD POWER CHINA FOR 20,000 YEARS
According to The China South Morning post China’s nuclear safety watchdog has issued an operational permit for the nation’s first thorium reactor, marking a significant milestone in the country’s pursuit of advanced nuclear technologies. Thorium could power China for 20,000 years.
The reactor, a two-megawatt liquid-fuelled thorium molten salt reactor (MSR), is located in the Gobi Desert city of Wuwei in Gansu province. The reactor is being developed by Professor Yan Rui and his colleagues at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics.
The permit, issued by the National Nuclear Safety Administration on June 7, allows the Shanghai Institute to operate the reactor for 10 years and it will start by testing operations.
The permit specifies that the Shanghai Institute is responsible for the safety of the reactor and must comply with all relevant laws, regulations and technical standards.
Thorium MSRs are a type of advanced nuclear technology that use liquid fuels, typically molten salts, as both a fuel and a coolant. They offer several potential advantages over traditional uranium reactors, including increased safety, reduced waste and improved fuel efficiency.
Because the reactor would not need to be built near water, it could be deployed in the deserts and plains of central and western China, complementing wind and solar plants and reducing China’s reliance on coal-fired power stations. The country plans to become carbon neutral by 2060.
However, there are several economic and technical obstacles making the deployment of thorium challenging. Despite its abundance, the metal is currently expensive to extract. “Another hurdle for thorium is that it can be difficult to handle,” said Anzhelika Khaperskaia, Technical Lead on Fuel Engineering and Fuel Cycle Facilities at the IAEA. Being a fertile and not fissile material, it needs a driver, such as uranium or plutonium, to trigger and maintain a chain reaction.
The commercial reactor would be only 3 meters tall and 2.5 meters wide, however the power plant would be fairly massive as it would house other equipment like steam turbines. It could produce enough electricity to power town of 100,000 inhabitants.
China aims to build its first molten salt reactor by the end of this decade — 2030 — and the national government aims to build several of such reactors in deserts of central and western China.
(Source: South China Morning Post/IAEA – The desert of Gobi where molten salt reactors could be deployed)