China Begins Tests with Thorium Reactor
Aug. 28, 2021 (EIRNS)—Scientists in China are about to turn on for the first time an experimental reactor that is believed by some to be the Holy Grail of nuclear energy—safer, cheaper and with less potential for weaponization, reported Australia Broadcast Corporation yesterday. Construction on the thorium-based molten salt reactor was expected to be finished this month with the first tests to begin as early as September, according to a statement from the Gansu provincial government.
Thorium is a metallic element with radioactive properties, close to uranium on the periodic table, which was considered as an alternative fuel source when the U.S. was first developing nuclear energy technology in the 1940s.
The new reactor, built at Wuwei on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China, is an experimental prototype designed to have an output of just 2 megawatts.
According to a paper published in the Chinese scientific journal Nuclear Techniques by the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, the longer-term plan is to develop a series of small molten salt reactors each producing 100 MW of energy, enough for about 100,000 people. Molten salt plants don’t use water for cooling like traditional nuclear power plants and so can be built in desert areas, the paper says, such as China’s sparsely populated western regions. The first commercial plants using the new technology are reportedly planned to come online in 2030.