China leading the way with safe nuclear energyby Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
, April 2, 2011
Several weeks before Japan was struck by the massive tsunami that disabled one of its nuclear reactors, China announced it was developing a network of thorium-fuelled nuclear reactors.
According to a recent report in London’s The Telegraph, by the paper’s international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the decision by China’s Academy of Sciences to adopt a thorium-based molten salt reactor system has passed largely unnoticed.
This technology builds on a liquid fuel scheme “pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s”. However, America’s work in this area was discontinued.
Kirk Sorensen, a one-time NASA engineer and thorium expert at Teledyne Brown, told The Telegraph: “The reactor has an amazing safety feature. If it begins to over-heat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself.
“They operate at atmospheric pressure, so you don’t have the sort of hydrogen explosions we’ve seen in Japan. One of these reactors would have come through the tsunami just fine. There would have been no radiation release.”
According to Professor Robert Cywinski of Huddersfield University, England, thorium must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the fission process.
“There is no chain reaction,” he said. “Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam. There are not enough neutrons for it (to) continue of its own accord.”
Another advantage is that, whereas the world’s supply of uranium is expected to last less than 100 years, thorium is as common as lead and is a by-product of rare earth mining which has been going on in Australia for decades.
Leading Australian energy expert and scientist, David Archibald of Perth, has long advocated that Australia should drop all its anti-CO2 taxing plans that threaten the economy and move towards developing a thorium energy sector.
In a recent research paper, “The Path to Energy Security: A Case Study of Australia”, published in the newly-released book Energy Security 2.0: How Energy is Central to the Changing Global Balance in the New Age of Geography, he wrote: “Thorium is four times as abundant as uranium and has no existing commercial use. …
“The technical aspects of this [thorium] technology were determined in a program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory [Tennessee], with a molten salt reactor running from 1965 to 1968. There is nothing in this type of reactor to burn or blow up, and the production of transuranic elements is at one ten-thousandth of the rate of the plutonium fast-breeder route or LWR [light water reactor] route. …
“The most common thorium-containing mineral is monazite, which in Australia has been discarded as an unwanted by-product of mineral sands mining. However, the cost of commercialising thorium molten salt technology would be less than the cost of the Federal Government’s fiscal stimulus program of subsidising home insulation.” (Energy Security 2.0, pages 112-113).
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, “Safe nuclear does exist, and China is leading the way with thorium”, The Telegraph (UK), March 20, 2011.