China is undertaking an aggressive new initiative to complete the world’s first thorium-based nuclear power plant. The nation’s government has cut its initial timeline for development of a thorium reactor by over half in an effort to curb its reliance on coal-fired power to reduce polluting emissions.
"In the past, the government was interested in nuclear power because of the energy shortage," Professor Li Zhong, a scientist working on the project, told the South China Morning Post.
"The problem of coal has become clear. If the average energy consumption per person doubles, this country will be choked to death by polluted air," Li Zhong added. "Nuclear power provides the only solution for massive coal replacement and thorium carries much hope."
Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element that is not only more abundant than traditional sources of nuclear power, but also more efficient. One ton of Thorium holds the potential to produce as much energy as nearly 200 tons of uranium, and it produces energy without an output of carbon dioxide.1
China’s plans for thorium are centered on a liquid fluoride thorium reactor, while competing parties in the U.S. and Europe are focused on utilizing light water technology. The liquid fluoride thorium reactor is a type of molten salt reactor.
China is aiming to complete the project within the next 10 years, pushing the plan forward from its initial goal of 25 years. The Telegraph reports the thorium project came into being in 2013, set in motion by Chinese leader Jiang Mianheng, who estimated that China has enough thorium to power itself for "20,000 years."
However, a thorium reactor is not the only advanced nuclear solution China is actively pursuing according to the South China Morning Post. An experimental fast reactor is currently operating in Beijing and the country has also recently completed construction of the world's largest experimental platform for an accelerator reactor that burns nuclear fuel with a powerful "particle gun".
Nuclear power is a core part of China’s energy strategy. Currently, China has a total of 20 operating nuclear reactors and another 28 that are being built.
1) Dorothy Davis (Ballard). How EMMA will change nuclear energy as we know it. July 2011