China Is Developing The World’s First Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor

Nuclear reactors are a great source of clean energy but we all know that they come with risk. Aside from the risk of something going really bad, nuclear reactors also need a large amount of water to cool the reactor. To convey heat from the reactor core to steam turbines or to dissipate heat more efficiently. This means that nuclear reactors can only be built in locations near the coast or near water sources. But that need might become history soon.

China is planning on developing a nuclear reactor that does not require water for cooling. A team of researchers unveiled their design for a commercial reactor that could even be built in remote locations like deserts. This would make safe and clean energy available everywhere in the country. China is planning to build several reactors in the desert as well as in the plains of central and western China. The new reactor is called a molten salt reactor and it is powered by thorium instead of uranium. It uses a mixture of molten salt for cooling.

Thorium is safer than uranium as it can’t be used to make nuclear weapons. Molten thorium also solidifies quickly in an event of a leak and disperses less radiation into the environment. The research team is led by Professor Yan Rui and colleagues from the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics. They wrote in their paper that “Small-scale reactors have significant advantages in terms of efficiency, flexibility, and economy. They can play a key role in the future transition to clean energy. It is expected that small-scale reactors will be widely deployed in the next few years”. 

Their paper was published in the Chinese journal Nuclear Techniques. Since Thorium is relatively safe, China is also considering building these reactors for other countries as well. Provided they have signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative. Having a molten salt reactor also means that China would be cutting down on its environmental pollution. This also falls in line with President Xi Jinping’s plans for carbon neutrality by 2060. According to the official plan, these reactors will be constructed in the sparsely populated west of the country.

The goal is to provide a clean, stable electricity supply to the densely populated east coupled with wind and solar farms. The molten salt concept has been there for quite a while. Many countries have tried to build their own but they also fall short because of problems like the pipes cracking too easily because they had become corroded by the radioactive molten salt.

It seems that China has rectified most of the drawbacks as they are building a  prototype Thorium Molten Salt Reactor or TMSR in Wuwei, in the Gansu province.

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