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Whatever happened to China’s revolutionary molten salt nuclear reactor program?

Whatever happened to China’s revolutionary molten salt nuclear reactor program?

Several years ago during a radio interview, the host told me that the Chinese were planning on deploying a commercial modular molten salt reactor (MSR) by 2020. For context, these nuclear reactors are based on existing technology demonstrated by previous operating prototypes, can use fuel that is hundreds of times more abundant than the only naturally occurring fissile isotope (uranium-235), are resistant to making bomb-grade material, and cannot suffer meltdowns. Modular design could allow them to be built in factories and shipped ready to install to any suitable location.

The host was confident about his prediction because it had come from one of the many books circulating at the time telling us how great the human future would be and that new technology would solve all the world’s major problems including hunger, climate change, environmental pollution and resource scarcity. This would happen in part due to abundant energy produced by MSRs even as human populations continued to grow.

Sticking to the narrow question of MSRs, I opined that development of complex technologies takes far longer than anticipated and that there are unique challenges in the utility industry. I guessed it would be 20 years before a viable commercial Chinese MSR would appear.

While the Chinese did recently begin construction of a demonstration modular nuclear reactor, this reactor is of the light-water variety—the kind that is already widely in use, that is subject to the catastrophic meltdowns that haunt the nuclear industry, that uses uranium as its fuel, and that can foster proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The pressurized water reactor mentioned in the news release linked above is a type of light-water reactor (LWR). The design is undoubtedly safer than previous LWRs. But it still suffers from the many drawbacks of LWRs and seems unlikely to be widely adopted.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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