You might be intrigued by the idea of nuclear reactors being used to reduce emissions. But are you concerned about their long-term safety and water consumption? It is possible that there might be a solution. LiveScience reports that China is planning to build the first commercial nuclear reactor with liquid thorium, molten salt.
In August, the prototype reactor will be ready. The first tests are due in September. By 2030, a commercial-scale reactor should be available.
Technology should be more friendly to the environment and less controversial. Conventional uranium nuclear reactors create radioactive waste, which can remain extremely radioactive for as long as 10,000 years. This requires lead containers and high security. Also included in the waste is plutonium-239 which is essential for nuclear weapons. In the event of a leaking reactor, they could release high levels of radiation. This is what happened in Chernobyl. They are also dependent on large amounts of water and cannot be used in dry climates.
However, thorium reactors dissolve their key element in fluoride salt, which mostly produces uranium233 that can be recycled through other reactions. The half-life of other leftovers from the reaction is 'just' 500 year, which is still not very impressive but it is much safer. The molten salt is able to seal in the thorium, preventing any significant leaks, if there is a leak. This technology does not require water and cannot be used to make nuclear weapons. It is possible to build nuclear weapons reactors in the desert.
China has thus built the first commercial reactor at Wuwei in China's Gansu Province. Officials see this as an opportunity to promote China's international expansion. China plans to invest up to $30 billion in 30 countries in its "Belt and Road” investment initiative. China could theoretically increase its political influence while not contributing to nuclear weapons proliferation.
This could worry the US and other political adversaries that are behind in thorium reactors. For example, the US-based Natrium reactor is still being developed. It is still in development, but it could be a significant step towards China's goal to become carbon neutral by 2060. China is still dependent heavily on coal energy and it's not certain that renewable resources will be able to keep up with demand. China could reduce its dependence on coal by using thorium reactors. These reactors can be constructed in shorter time frames and could fill gaps left by larger plants.