China to activate world’s first ‘clean’ nuclear reactor in September
Chinese government scientists have unveiled plans for a one-of-a-kind experimental nuclear reactor that doesn’t need water for cooling.
The prototype molten salt nuclear reactor, which operates on liquid thorium rather than uranium, should be safer than traditional reactors because thorium cools and solidifies quickly when exposed to air, meaning any potential leak would spread much less radiation into the environment than leaks from traditional reactors. .
The prototype reactor is expected to be completed next month, with the first tests starting as early as September.
As this type of reactor does not require water, it can operate in desert regions. The location of the first commercial reactor, slated for construction by 2030, will be in the desert city of Wuwei, and the Chinese government intends to build more in the deserts and sparsely populated plains of the region. western China, as well as up to 30 countries involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative – a global investment program that will see China invest in infrastructure in 70 countries.
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Chinese government officials see nuclear power exports as a key part of the Belt and Road program.
“” Exiting “nuclear power has already become a state strategy, and nuclear exports will help optimize our export trade and free up high-end domestic manufacturing capabilities,” Wang Shoujun, member of the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – a political advisory body that acts as a link between the Chinese government and business interests, said in a report posted on the CPPCC website.
Thorium – a silvery radioactive metal named after the Norse god of thunder – is much cheaper and more abundant than uranium, and cannot easily be used to create nuclear weapons. The new reactor is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s drive to make China carbon neutral by 2060, according to the team at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics who developed the prototype. China currently contributes 27% of total global carbon emissions, the largest amount of any country and more than the entire developed world combined, according to a 2019 report by U.S. group Rhodium.
“Small-scale reactors have significant advantages in terms of efficiency, flexibility and economy,” wrote Yan Rui, professor of physics at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, and colleagues in an article on the project published on July 15 in the journal. Nuclear techniques. “They can play a key role in the future transition to clean energy. Small-scale reactors are expected to be widely deployed in the coming years.”
Instead of using fuel rods, molten salt reactors work by dissolving thorium in liquid fluoride salt before sending it to the reactor chamber at temperatures above 1,112 Fahrenheit (600 degrees Celsius). When bombarded with high-energy neutrons, thorium atoms separate, releasing energy and even more neutrons through a process called nuclear fission. This sets off a chain reaction, releasing heat into the thorium-salt mixture, which is then sent through a second chamber where excess energy is extracted and turned into electricity.
Thorium reactors have long had an elusive appeal to nuclear scientists. Located just two positions to the left of uranium on the periodic table of chemical elements, almost all of the thorium mined is thorium-232, the isotope used in nuclear reactions. In contrast, only 2-3% of the total uranium mined is fissile uranium 235 used in traditional nuclear reactors. This makes thorium a much more abundant source of energy.
The benefits of Thorium don’t end there. Waste from uranium-235 nuclear reactions remains highly radioactive for up to 10,000 years and includes plutonium-239, the key ingredient in nuclear weapons. Traditional nuclear waste must be stored in lead containers, isolated in secure facilities, and subjected to rigorous controls to ensure that it does not fall into the wrong hands. In contrast, the main by-products of a thorium nuclear reaction are uranium-233, which can be recycled in other reactions, and a number of other by-products with an average “half-life”. (the time it takes for half of a substance’s radioactive atoms to decay to a non-radioactive state) is only 500 years.
After testing the 2 gigawatt prototype in September, China plans to build its first commercial thorium reactor. Measuring just 10 feet (3 meters) high and 8 feet (2.5 m) wide, researchers say it will be able to generate 100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 100,000 people. Yet, it must be combined with other equipment, such as steam turbines, to produce usable electricity.
The molten salt reactor concept was first devised in 1946 as part of a plan by the US Air Force’s predecessor to create a nuclear-powered supersonic jet.
However, the experiment encountered too many problems, such as corrosion from hot salt and cracking of pipelines, and the project was abandoned in 1954. Since then, several groups have attempted to build molten salt reactors. viable, including a reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but the low radioactivity of thorium makes it very difficult to increase fission reactions to sustainable levels without the addition of uranium.
It is not yet clear how Chinese researchers resolved these technical issues.
China’s effort is the most developed of many other new attempts to build thorium reactors, including one called Natrium, which plans to build a pilot plant in Wyoming and has financial backing from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Nuclear reactors aren’t the only technology China is investing in as part of its efforts to become carbon neutral. The Baihetan Dam, the second largest hydroelectric facility in the world after China’s Three Gorges Dam, was commissioned in June and has a power generation capacity of 16 gigawatts. The UK-based energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie estimates that China will add 430 gigawatts of new solar and wind power capacity over the next five years.
Even as China positions itself as a world leader in the fight against climate change, the country is already under acute pressure from extreme weather events. Severe flooding in Henan Province this week has displaced an estimated 100,000 people and killed at least 33, CNN reported. The meteorological office in Zhengzhou, the region’s capital, said the three days of rain matched levels seen “once in 1,000 years.”
Originally posted on Live Science.