Did you know that nuclear power is actually considered cleaner than traditional forms of energy that rely on fossil fuel? However, the horrific visions painted by nuclear reactor meltdowns seem to have painted the energy source in a bad light, but scientists in China are hoping that their plan to build a “clean” nuclear reactor could help change the minds of people.
What’s different about this nuclear reactor is that instead of using uranium, they will use thorium. They will also not use fuel rods, but rather molten salt reactors. How it works is that the thorium will be dissolved into the liquid fluoride salt before being sent into the chamber. At extremely high temperatures of 600C, thorium atoms will transform into uranium-233, an isotope of uranium that can then split and release energy and neutrons, thus creating nuclear fission.
The upside to this compared to using uranium is that this process is safer than more traditional nuclear reactors. This is because if there is a leak, the molten salt is expected to cool enough to help seal in the thorium and prevent significant leaks. The leftovers from the reaction also have a relatively shorter half-life of 500 years compared to uranium reactors whose waste can stay radioactive for up to 10,000 years.
It also does not require water, so installing these nuclear reactors in places like the desert is a possibility, away from populous cities. Most importantly, it seems that this process makes it harder to produce nuclear weapons, so it reduces concerns that this could add to a country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
A prototype reactor is expected to be launched in August and tests will begin in September. Assuming it goes well, a full-scale commercial reactor could be ready by 2030.