China's Thorium Reactor Program
China Blazes Trail for ‘Clean’ Nuclear Power from Thorium.
Princeling Jiang Mianheng, son of former leader Jiang Zemin, is spearheading a project for China’s National Academy of Sciences with a start-up budget of $350m.
He has already recruited 140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium power at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. He will have 750 staff by 2015.
The aim is to break free of the archaic pressurized-water reactors fueled by uranium — originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s — opting instead for new generation of thorium reactors that produce far less toxic waste and cannot blow their top like Fukushima.
“China is the country to watch,” said Baroness Bryony Worthington, head of the All-Parliamentary Group on Thorium Energy, who visited the Shanghai operations recently with a team from Britain’s National Nuclear Laboratory.
“They are really going for it, and have talented researchers. This could lead to a massive break-through.”
The thorium story is by now well-known. Enthusiasts think it could be the transforming technology needed to drive the industrial revolutions of Asia — and to avoid an almighty energy crunch as an extra two billion people climb the ladder to western lifestyles.
At the least, it could do for nuclear power what shale fracking has done for natural gas — but on a bigger scale, for much longer, perhaps more cheaply, and with near zero CO2 emissions.
The Chinese are leading the charge, but they are not alone. Norway’s Thor Energy began a four-year test last month with Japan’s Toshiba-Westinghouse to see whether they could use thorium at Norway’s conventional Halden reactor in Oslo.
The Japanese are keen to go further, knowing they have to come up with something radically new to regain public trust and save their nuclear industry.
Japan’s International Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS) — now led by thorium enthusiast Takashi Kamei — is researching molten salt reactors that use liquid fuel.
Is this what Premier Shinzo Abe meant when he revealed before Christmas that he planned to relaunch nuclear power in Japan with “entirely different” technology? We will find out.
The Chinese aim to beat them to it. Technology for the molten salt process already exists. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee built such a reactor in the 1960s. It was shelved by the Nixon Administration. The Pentagon needed plutonium residue from uranium to build nuclear bombs. The imperatives of the Cold War prevailed.