Email of the day (1)
Comment of the Day

January 09 2013

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day (1)

On China's interest in thorium-fuelled reactors
"China blazes trail for 'clean' nuclear power from thorium - Telegraph.

" The Chinese are running away with thorium energy, sharpening a global race for the prize of clean, cheap, and safe nuclear power. Good luck to them. They may do us all a favour."

David Fuller's view Thanks for this informative article from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of The Telegraph. Here is the opening:

Princeling Jiang Mianheng, son of former leader Jiang Zemin, is spearheading a project for China's National Academy of Sciences with a start-up budget of $350m.

He has already recruited 140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium power at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. He will have 750 staff by 2015.

The aim is to break free of the archaic pressurized-water reactors fueled by uranium -- originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s -- opting instead for new generation of thorium reactors that produce far less toxic waste and cannot blow their top like Fukushima.

"China is the country to watch," said Baroness Bryony Worthington, head of the All-Parliamentary Group on Thorium Energy, who visited the Shanghai operations recently with a team from Britain's National Nuclear Laboratory.

"They are really going for it, and have talented researchers. This could lead to a massive break-through."

The thorium story is by now well-known. Enthusiasts think it could be the transforming technology needed to drive the industrial revolutions of Asia -- and to avoid an almighty energy crunch as an extra two billion people climb the ladder to western lifestyles.

At the least, it could do for nuclear power what shale fracking has done for natural gas -- but on a bigger scale, for much longer, perhaps more cheaply, and with near zero CO2 emissions.

The Chinese are leading the charge, but they are not alone. Norway's Thor Energy began a four-year test last month with Japan's Toshiba-Westinghouse to see whether they could use thorium at Norway's conventional Halden reactor in Oslo.

The Japanese are keen to go further, knowing they have to come up with something radically new to regain public trust and save their nuclear industry.

My view - This last short paragraph is highly important, and not just for Japan. Other users of conventional nuclear power are extremely nervous, because while the nuclear industry has one of the best safety records in terms of deaths - check the evidence in this article from Pro Publica.

However, it was published days before the Fukushima plant was struck by a huge tidal wave, caused by a severe earthquake, and then went into meltdown. When things go wrong with nuclear power, it is really terrifying.

Moreover, most of the conventional nuclear power plants still in operation date back to the 1970s and 1980s, making them outdated and geriatric in terms of life expectancy. Following Fukushima, few countries dare commission the modern version of nuclear plants, China excepted, because of public opinion, costs, security risks and the worrying problem of storing highly toxic nuclear waste which has yet to be rendered safe.

These problems will eventually be resolved, perhaps by China which will soon be the major provider of nuclear power from uranium. China's interest in thorium reactors is more recent so it will take more time to develop them. Meanwhile, the Fukushima accident has revived interest in thorium reactors within a number of other Asian and also Western countries, as the article above details.

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