China Invests Big in Clean and Cheap Energy from Thorium

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?

Video on China's Clean and Cheap Energy Program based on Thorium.

A new Beginning
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.

Recently the Chinese Academy of Sciences launched a pioneering initiative program called Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor Project which is 100% financed by our Central Government.
-Jiang Mianheng

History of the TMSR
In the sixties, the TMSR was born in the secretive US Government research facility Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). There, the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) ran successfully for more than 4 years and demonstrated its feasibility and stable nature.
In the seventies, the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, under conditions of a short deadline, constructed a cold test of a molten salt reactor.
Since we entered the 21st century, TMSRs have received global attention. The U.S., the European Union, Russia, and Japan have all developed conceptual designs, investigated related technologies and begun practical experiments.
In 2011, the Chinese Academy of Sciences commenced the "Near future disruptive change in atomic energy - Thorium Molten Salt Reactor apparatus", a strategic science and technology pilot project with political power behind. As a result, TMSR research, the practical realization of thorium's high fuel efficiency and high temperature utility began in experiments. During the past 5 years, the development of key systems and technologies have made vital advancements such as the specialized development of the simulation and modeling system.
With this system, the world's first experimental solid fuel molten salt reactor engineering design has been completed. With national and international co-operation, a safety standard for thorium molten salt reactors has been formulated as well as documentation regarding anti-proliferation and safety classification.
Specific breakthroughs have occurred in the molten salt reactor itself as well as techniques related to many crucial areas in the molten salt reactor: loop testing has been successfully researched, and molten salt pumps have been developed along with molten salt heat exchanges, high-temperature instrumentation and controls.

The Devil is in the Details
China has built the world's first industrial scale high temperature experimental fluoride salt loop as well as the world's largest passive natural circulation loop for molten salts. Large scale experimental facilities have been constructed to advance the closed thorium-uranium fuel cycle through reprocessing strategies. The minor actinides created can be used as fuel and the extra U-233 bred can be used to start new reactors, enabling China to finally reach the goal of a fully closed nuclear fuel cycle.


A row of glove boxes in the laboratory at SINAP in Shanghai.

Since the Chinese TMSR uses all the thorium, only fission products will be sent to geological disposition, reducing the quantity and longevity of the fission products by orders of magnitude.
Further, realising the high-temperature Brayton cycle turbine technology for power generation can significantly increase the heat to electricity conversion and reduce the need for cooling water.
China has also solved the molten salt permeation problem and the difficult question of graphite swelling. A special project has developed a world-first high density, fine-grain graphite - and has developed the means of industrial production of it. They have also developed a specialized nickel alloy, secured its production and handling in China, as well as solved the difficult problem of fluoride salt corrosion control.

Pioneering A New Era Powered by Thorium
Since the start, the TMSR project has grown to a professional research team of over 400 researchers. Significant progress has been made in relevant fields of design and construction, advanced thorium molten salt reactor platforms have been constructed, and conditions necessary for experiments have been created. TMSR energy systems have obtained widespread and close attention from both research institutions within China and the growing international community.

“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

The potential of this development has fueled discussions among international experts. As China ushers in the time of the Thirteenth Five-Year-Plan, there is trust in Thorium Energy to become the backbone of the nation's research efforts, and to advance China as a nuclear energy country and greatly contribute to becoming a nuclear energy powerhouse.


Model of the first Chinese solid fuel molten salt cooled prototype under construction.

Extra images:


Schematics of reactor building.


Molten salt loop experiment.


HF-H2 purification facility.