China is having a massive Thorium program. The People’s Republic of China has initiated a research and development project in thorium molten-salt reactor technology. 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.
Geneva, Switzerland, 21 August 2018 – As the world struggles with a record-breaking heatwave, China correctly places its trust in the fuel Thorium and the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR) as the backbone of its nation’s plan to become a clean and cheap energy powerhouse.
The question is if China will manage to build a homegrown mega export industry, or will others have capacity and will to catch up?
For China, clean energy development and implementation is a test for the state’s ability. Therefore, China is developing the capability to use the “forgotten fuel” thorium, which could begin a new era of nuclear power.
The first energy system they are building is a solid fuel molten salt reactor that achieves high temperatures to maximize efficiency of combined heat and power generation applications.
However, to fully realize thorium’s energy potential and in this way solve an important mission for China – the security of fuel supply – requires also the thorium itself to be fluid. This is optimized in the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR).
The TMSR takes safety to an entirely new level and can be made cheap and small since it operates at atmospheric pressure, one of its many advantages. Thanks to its flexible cooling options it can basically be used anywhere, be it a desert, a town or at sea. In China this is of special interest inland, where freshwater is scarce in large areas, providing a unique way to secure energy independence.
“Everyone in the field is extremely impressed with how China saw the potential, grabbed the opportunity and is now running faster than everyone else developing this futuristic energy source China and the entire world is in a great need of.”
– Andreas Norlin, Thorium Energy World
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors will lessen the need for an expanded national grid. The National Electric grid is at the breaking point. It needs to be expanded, but neighborhood resistance is building in many areas where they need an expanded grid the most. The grid is also sensitive to terrorism activities.
As we can see the national grid is extensive. It is also under severe strain at peak demand. Wind power will only increase the strain since most wind power is generated where few people live and work. A way to lessen the dependency on the national grid is to sprinkle it with many small to medium sized Thorium Nuclear Power generators. They can be placed on barges in rivers and along the coast where the need is greatest, giving the grid maximum flexibility to respond in case of an emergency. (To be fair, the Texas grid is separately controlled from the rest of the grid.
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors will work both as Base Load and Load Following power plants. LFTR’s operate at a much higher temperature than conventional power plants and operate at about 45% electricity conversion efficiency, as opposed to 38% or lower for steam generators. In addition, because of the higher operating temperature it is ideal for hydrogen generation. The reactor would use the electricity generation to satisfy the current demand and produce hydrogen during times of low demand. This hydrogen would be temporarily stored and used for electricity production at peak demand. And hydrogen power produces only water when burned, no CO2 or polluting fumes are generated.
No need for evacuation zones, can be placed near urban areas. Molten Salt Thorium reactors operate at atmospheric pressure and have a very high negative temperature coefficient, so there is no risk for a boil-over. They are easily made earthquake-safe and no pressure vessel is needed. This will greatly simplify the approval process, no need for elaborate evacuation plans have to be developed. Since the Three Mile Island accident there was a thirty year gap in approvals for new nuclear plants. The “not in my backyard ” mentality reigned supreme, and delay and denial was the rule of the years. But the lawyers still got their share, leading to escalating cost for new nuclear power. In the early days of nuclear power France took the approach of building some of their nuclear plants near the Belgian and German border, so they only had to develop half of an evacuation plan, leaving the other half to their understanding neighbors. It also leads to placing the nuclear plants where there is the least resistance, not where they are needed the most, adding to the strain on the electric grid.
Thorium Nuclear Power generators scale beautifully from small portable generators to full size power plants. One of the first applications was as an airborne nuclear reactor.
Granted this was not a Thorium breeder reactor, but it proves nuclear reactors can be made lightweight. Thorium reactors can be made even lighter as long as they are not of the breeder type.
Virtually no spent fuel problem, very little on site storage or transport. I am following the events at Fukushima Nuclear Power plants with great interest. How ironic that the greatest risk is with the spent fuel, not with the inability to shut down the working units. The spent fuel issue is the real Achilles’ heel of the Nuclear Power Industry. Molten Salt Thorium nuclear power works differently from conventional Uranium as the fissile fuel gets generated in the breeding process itself and nearly all fuel gets consumed as it is generated. When the process shuts down, that is it. Only the radioactivity that is en route so to say will have to be accounted for, not everything generated thus far in the process. The difference is about one to ten thousand in the size of the problem. It is high time to rebuild and expand our Nuclear power generation by switching to Thorium.
Molten Salt Nuclear Reactors have a very high negative temperature coefficient leading to a safe and stable control. This is another beauty of the molten salt design. The temperature coefficient is highly negative, leading to a safe design with simple and consistent feedback. What does that mean? It means that if temperature in the core rises, the efficiency of the reaction goes down, leading to less heat generated. There is no risk for a thermal runaway. In contrast, graphite moderated generator can have a positive temperature coefficient which leads to complicated control, necessitating many safety circuits to ensure proper operation and shutdown. Their failure mode is they go prompt critical, and no containment vessel can contain the explosion that would occur, so they are built without one.
With Molten Salt nuclear Reactors there is no risk for a meltdown, the fuel is already molten, and that is a safe design. The fissile fuel in a Thorium reactor is U-233 in the form of UraniumFluoride (UF4) salt which also contains Lithium and Beryllium. In its molten form it has a very low vapor pressure. The salt flows easily through the heat exchangers and the separators. The salt is very toxic, but it is completely sealed. Being a fluid, it is constantly mixed for optimum efficiency. The reactor will never have to be shut down for refueling, it is a continuous flow process. Uranium-235 Nuclear reactors on the other hand have to be shut down for refueling and rebalancing of the fuel rods a little more often than once every two years. The average shutdown is 35 days, or about 5% of the time. Then comes the major problem of safely and securely transporting and reprocessing the spent fuel.
Molten Salt Thorium Reactors are earthquake safe. Thorium reactors have a very simple and compact design where gravity is the only thing needed to stop the nuclear reaction. Conventional nuclear reactors depend on external power to shut down after a SCRAM, where poison rods fall down to halt the reaction. The next figure shows the concept of a Thorium reactor.
The idea is to empty the fissile U-233 core through gravity alone. All that is needed is a melt-plug that is constantly cooled by cold air. In an earthquake the cold air flow automatically shuts off, and since the fuel is already molten, it will then run down into channels like pig-iron into cooling heat exchangers with water supplied through gravity alone.
As we can see the reactor hardened structure is compact, and can be completely earthquake and tsunami proof. What can be sheared off are the steam pipes and external power, but the reactor shutdown will complete safely without additional power, even if the earthquake is so bad the reactor is broken into pieces.