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The U.S. is helping China build a novel, superior nuclear reactor
fortune.com ^ | February 2, 2015, 2:48 PM EDT | Mark Halper

Posted on 03/23/2015 7:02:23 AM PDT by ckilmer

The U.S. is helping China build a novel, superior nuclear reactor

February 2, 2015, 2:48 PM EDT
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The Department of Energy is dusting off one of the old betamaxes of nuclear technology: The molten salt reactor. But with political will lacking at home, it will rise in China.

In 1973, the Nixon administration made a momentous decision that altered the course of civilian nuclear power: It fired the director of the renowned Oak Ridge National Laboratory, scuppering development of a reactor widely regarded as safer and superior to the complicated, inferior behemoths that define the global industry to this day.

Nixon banished a reactor that was virtually meltdown-proof, left comparatively little long-lived waste, made it more difficult to fashion a bomb from the waste, ran at friendlier atmospheric pressure instead of the potentially explosive pressurized environments of conventional reactors, and ran at much higher temperatures, making it more cost-effective as an electricity generator.

Under director Alvin Weinberg, Oak Ridge had built and run a small, experimental version of the so-called molten-salt reactor for five years. It wasn’t perfect but it was a good start, and inventor Weinberg was preparing to improve it. Then Nixon’s axe fell, leaving Oak Ridge all dressed up and nowhere to go as the keeper of a valuable, clean, safe nuclear energy technology—a technology that today could go a long way toward moving the world onto a much needed source of power that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide.

Decades later, the U.S. Department of Energy (which owns Oak Ridge) is slowly reawakening to Weinberg’s vision. But this time, rather than build a molten-salt reactor itself—the country currently lacks the political will and funding to do so—the U.S. is helping others.

Fortune has learned that DOE plans to sign a 10-year collaboration agreement with China to help that country build at least one molten-salt machine within the next decade. And in a smaller development, Oak Ridge publicly announced in January that it will advise Terrestrial Energy, a privately held Canadian start-up, on development of a molten-salt reactor that draws on Weinberg designs and on the reactor scheme that briefly hatched at Oak Ridge after Weinberg left.

The idea from the U.S. perspective—especially with the larger DOE collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences—is to foster a reactor that could eventually gain hold in the U.S.

“The Chinese will be doing work and sharing information with us, and we’ll be applying our expertise and supporting them,” Oak Ridge nuclear engineer Jess Gehin tells Fortune. “They’re going to build a reactor there [in China]. Hopefully one will get built in the U.S., but there isn’t any concrete plan for that.”

In recent years, China has committed some $400 million to development of two molten-salt reactors at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, which is part of the Academy. China first announced its plans in early 2011, and at one point was targeting this year for completion of a tiny pilot version of its first, on the way to a full blown demonstrator by 2024, rated at 100 megawatts—a size that fits the emerging trend for small reactors. Its target dates have shifted a few times; it could benefit from DOE’s help. A second molten-salt reactor based on a variation of the first is due within 10 to 20 years.

“The Chinese, being relatively new to it, need technical support,” says Gehin, who leads Oak Ridge’s efforts to integrate reactor technology research and development projects. “If they follow through and build a test reactor, there’s a lot of useful information that we could get from that.”

The 10-year cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA, ratchets up a smaller “memorandum of understanding” that the Department of Energy and China signed in late 2011 to collaborate on the same technology. With the new installment, China is contributing “a significant amount of money,” Gehin says.

The collaboration will not initially focus on a replica of Weinberg’s experimental reactor. Weinberg used a liquid fuel, mixing uranium with molten salts that would flow through the reactor serving as both the fuel and the coolant. The U.S. Department of Energy is specifically helping China develop a machine that uses solid, pebble-shaped fuel, but that will use flowing molten salts as the reactor’s “coolant.” (In a nuclear power system, coolants absorb heat from fission reactions and transfer it to water, creating steam to drive a turbine. Conventional reactors typically use ordinary water to cool reactions, and are called Light Water Reactors, or LWRs.)

China plans to eventually build a liquid fuel molten-salt reactor as well. The DOE collaboration will help. To help increase their effectiveness, China plans to run the reactors not on uranium but on thorium, which enhances the reactor benefits.

Nuclear energy is a strong part of China’s plans to cut back its reliance on the coal-fired power plants that are choking its cities with deadly pollution and spewing environmentally hazardous carbon dioxide. The two molten-salt reactors are just one of several reactors under development in China based on unconventional designs; China is also building more conventional reactors than any country.

The new reactors have high level support in China, where Jiang Mianheng, the son of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, oversees them. Last March, Beijing ordered the Shanghai Institute to accelerate development of them.

The younger Jiang has outlined plans to use alternative reactors not only for electricity, but also as sources of clean heat for high temperature industrial processes which today run on CO2-emitting fossil fuels, to help gasify coal, to help produce environmentally friendly methanol fuel, and for other purposes.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Terrestrial Energy is also eyeing the industrial heat market, as well as electricity generation—especially for off-grid locations—for its molten-salt reactor. Terrestrial’s development deal with Oak Ridge is a short term consulting arrangement which could help meet its goal of building such a reactor by the early 2020s.

Oak Ridge will advise Terrestrial on things like salts and heat exchangers, and how to combat corrosion. The Terrestrial reactor will initially run on liquid uranium fuel. It’s based on a designed called the “Denatured Molten Salt Reactor,” which Oak Ridge conceptualized but never built in the 1970s as a follow up to the earlier reactor. The DMSR uses low-enriched uranium, rather than the more highly enriched uranium that Oak Ridge used in the experimental MSR which was to have bred additional fuel. Weinberg wanted to ultimately use thorium.

“If the DMSR is the basis of your design, you’d obviously want to go back to the original lab that has all the data, that has all the know-how; Oak Ridge National Laboratory is that lab for the DMSR,” Terrestrial CEO Simon Irish says.

China probably wouldn’t dispute that.



TOPICS: Business/Economy; Foreign Affairs; Government
KEYWORDS: energy; moltensalt; nuclearenergy; thorium
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Leave it to the feds to export the best US technological research.

The Chinese have now one upped the Russians successes in 1943-45 of spying on the Los Alamos labs.

1 posted on 03/23/2015 7:02:23 AM PDT by ckilmer
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To: ckilmer

Here’s a good background article for anyone interested in further research.
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Molten-Salt-Reactors/


2 posted on 03/23/2015 7:03:46 AM PDT by ckilmer (q)
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To: ckilmer
I always wondered why we don't build Thorium reactors here.
I always suspected the anti-progress Progressives don't want any reactors of any kind here, so this must be a case of an opportunity caused by more lax regulations in China.
Also, Nixon created the EPA.

3 posted on 03/23/2015 7:08:09 AM PDT by BitWielder1 (Corporate Profits are better than Government Waste)
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To: BitWielder1

Enviro-nazi-earth-firsters-humanity-haters do NOT want clean, cheap plentiful energy.

They want about 500 million people for a total earth population.

Clean cheap PLENTIFUL energy would let the earth support tens of billions of people.


4 posted on 03/23/2015 7:16:38 AM PDT by fishtank (The denial of original sin is the root of liberalism.)
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To: ckilmer

India also has at least one active Thorium reactor online already, and the Wikipedia has this to say also:

India has one of the largest supplies of thorium in the world, with comparatively poor quantities of uranium. India has projected meeting as much as 30% of its electrical demands through thorium by 2050.[41]

In February 2014, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), in Mumbai, India, presented their latest design for a “next-generation nuclear reactor” that will burn thorium as its fuel ore. Once built, with a target date of 2016, they estimate that the reactor could function without an operator for 120 days.[42]

According to Dr R K Sinha, chairman of their Atomic Energy Commission, “This will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, mostly imported, and will be a major contribution to global efforts to combat climate change.” Because of its inherent safety, they expect that similar designs could be set up “within” populated cities, like - Mumbai or Delhi.[42]

India’s government is also developing up to 62, mostly thorium reactors, which it expects to be operational by 2025. It is the “only country in the world with a detailed, funded, government-approved plan” to focus on thorium-based nuclear power. The country currently gets under 2% of its electricity from nuclear power, with the rest coming from coal (60%), hydroelectricity (16%), other renewable sources (12%) and natural gas (9%).[43] It expects to produce around 25% of its electricity from nuclear power.[15]:144 In 2009 the chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission said that India has a “long-term objective goal of becoming energy-independent based on its vast thorium resources.”[44][45]

In late June 2012, India announced that their “first commercial fast reactor” was near completion making India the most advanced country in thorium research.” We have huge reserves of thorium. The challenge is to develop technology for converting this to fissile material,” stated their former Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission.[46] That vision of using thorium in place of uranium was set out in the 1950s by physicist Homi Bhabha.[47][48] India’s first commercial fast breeder reactor — the 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) — is approaching completion at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu.

As of July 2013 the major equipment of the PFBR had been erected and the loading of “dummy” fuels in peripheral locations was in progress. The reactor was expected to go critical by September 2014.[49]

The Centre had sanctioned Rs. 5,677 crore for building the PFBR and “we will definitely build the reactor within that amount,” Mr. Kumar asserted. The original cost of the project was Rs. 3,492 crore, revised to Rs. 5,677 crore. Electricity generated from the PFBR would be sold to the State Electricity Boards at Rs. 4.44 a unit. BHAVINI builds breeder reactors in India. India’s 300 MWe AHWR (pressurized heavy water reactor) reactor began construction in 2011. The design envisages a start up with reactor grade plutonium that will breed U-233 from Th-232. Thereafter thorium is to be the only fuel.[50]


5 posted on 03/23/2015 7:18:25 AM PDT by Little Pig
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To: BitWielder1

I think it’s the fault of sloppy thinking.

We create the artificial category of “illegal drugs,” then insist on treating all in that category the same, whether we’re talking pot, crack or meth. Many people do the same with “chemicals” or “pesticides,” substances that have wildly different characteristics within the group.

Similarly, I think we insist that all fission reactors are the same, when they clearly are not.

My problem with the thorium reactors is that every article I’ve read on the subject was obviously written by a fanboy. I’m really interested in an article that lays out their weaknesses as well as their advantages.


6 posted on 03/23/2015 7:21:16 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: BitWielder1

China has two advantages with regards to this technology: one, they can ship any complaining environmentalists off to grow rice in rice paddies; two, they have lots of indigenous thorium.


7 posted on 03/23/2015 7:35:31 AM PDT by reg45 (Barack 0bama: Implementing class warfare by having no class.)
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To: ckilmer
Leave it to the feds to export the best US technological research.

The Chinese figured out a more tangible way to benefit from the climate change fraud: We're going to ignore you and go ball$ to the wall producing CO2...until you give us something.

Extortion by any other definition, still a far cry better than wealth confiscation by fraud...but pales to capitulation by our government & its willingness to give away our wealth & tech advantage as it does time & again...

...yet some here continue to preach overseas battles at the expense of complacency at home...

Besides...the Fed can't really be renaming Lafayette Park "Zhongnanhai".../s

8 posted on 03/23/2015 7:40:08 AM PDT by logi_cal869 (-cynicus-)
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To: Sherman Logan
Good observation.
The left and media have a long history of lumping together disparate issues in order to sway public opinion.
To make things sound worse than what they are, by associating them with some other known bad thing, even when the relationship is rather weak.

9 posted on 03/23/2015 8:28:53 AM PDT by BitWielder1 (Corporate Profits are better than Government Waste)
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To: ckilmer

Exactly,

I saw a clip of a Chinese Communist Party princeling on Youtube, where he was bragging that the Chinese would own the intellectual property for the new reactor designs, which they could not develop without the American participation.


10 posted on 03/23/2015 8:38:57 AM PDT by BeauBo
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To: Sherman Logan

So, instead of articles written by fanboys, you want something written by haters?


11 posted on 03/23/2015 8:48:56 AM PDT by webheart (We are all pretty much living in a fiction.)
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To: Sherman Logan

” My problem with the thorium reactors is that every article I’ve read on the subject was obviously written by a fanboy. I’m really interested in an article that lays out their weaknesses as well as their advantages.”

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium-based_nuclear_power


12 posted on 03/23/2015 8:56:16 AM PDT by aquila48
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To: webheart

Those are the only two alternatives, in your mind?


13 posted on 03/23/2015 9:04:18 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: ckilmer
So, let me see if I get this right ... we're going to BORROW money from China to build THEM a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor?

Am I missing something here?

14 posted on 03/23/2015 9:38:54 AM PDT by The Duke
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To: The Duke

[ So, let me see if I get this right ... we’re going to BORROW money from China to build THEM a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor?

Am I missing something here? ]

You missed the part where we pay through the nose to buy the finished reactors from china, or we allow the chinese to build reactors here and then they undercut the other electricity providers until they monopolize the market... THEN we pay thropugh the nose per Kilowatt hour.....


15 posted on 03/23/2015 9:47:16 AM PDT by GraceG (Protect the Border from Illegal Aliens, Don't Protect Illegal Alien Boarders...)
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To: The Duke

So, let me see if I get this right ... we’re going to BORROW money from China to build THEM a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor?
................
No. China is putting the money and the USA is putting in the expertise.

Problem is the USA could easily afford to pay for this program.


16 posted on 03/23/2015 12:53:45 PM PDT by ckilmer (q)
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To: fishtank

Clean cheap PLENTIFUL energy would let the earth support tens of billions of people.
............
In order to have limited government you have to have unlimited resources. The key to unlimited resources is cheap plentiful energy.


17 posted on 03/23/2015 12:55:00 PM PDT by ckilmer (q)
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To: logi_cal869

The Chinese figured out a more tangible way to benefit from the climate change fraud: We’re going to ignore you and go ball$ to the wall producing CO2...until you give us something.
............
In the last two years the Chinese have really pushed hard on solar production. They’ll be installing next year as much solar power as the USA has installed altogether.


18 posted on 03/23/2015 12:56:28 PM PDT by ckilmer (q)
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To: ckilmer

Except for relatively low power or off the grid applications, solar is still not ready for prime time - not the most cost effective alternative.

Chinese investment in installing solar capacity is just more of the mal-investment in infrastructure, that they have become famous for.


19 posted on 03/23/2015 1:47:43 PM PDT by BeauBo
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To: BeauBo

The solar industry is growing around the world, but China is taking growth to another level. It recently set the most aggressive goal of any country by targeting 17.8 GW of solar installations in 2015. That’s 19% higher than the proposed 15 GW goal, and 70% higher than the 10.5 GW installed in 2014.

Just how big is China’s goal?
To put China’s goal into some perspective, here is how 17.8 GW stacks up in the solar industry.

17.8 GW of solar energy would power 2.9 million U.S. households, or about 2.5% of the homes in the U.S.
If built as a utility-scale power plant, 17.8 GW of solar energy would cover about 107,000 acres, or 167 square miles.
Next year alone, China could approach the grand total of 18.3 GW of solar ever installed in the U.S.
http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/03/22/chinas-new-solar-target-could-set-the-stage-for-a.aspx


20 posted on 03/23/2015 3:39:09 PM PDT by ckilmer (q)
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