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China sets new thorium reactor project deadline for 2024

15 April 2014

According to an article in the South China Morning Post, the Chinese government has brought forward by 15 years the deadline to develop a nuclear power plant using the radioactive element thorium instead of uranium. The SCMP says the team of Shanghai-based researchers working on the project  has now been told it has 10 instead of 25 years to develop the world's first such plant.

A conventional nuclear power plant at Lianyungang, China
A conventional nuclear power plant at Lianyungang, China

The project has been given new urgency by the increasing problem of air pollution across the country, mainly caused by coal-fired electricity generation.

"In the past, the government was interested in nuclear power because of the energy shortage. Now, they are more interested because of smog," Professor Li Zhong, a scientist working on the project, told the Hong Kong-based newspaper.

An advanced research centre was set up in January by the Chinese Academy of Sciences with the aim of developing an industrial reactor using thorium molten salt technology.

China has 20 uranium-fuelled nuclear plants in operation and another 28 under construction, but wants to take advantage of the relative abundance of thorium to develop a separate method of nuclear generation.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences claims the country now has “the world’s largest national effort on thorium”, employing a team of 430 scientists and engineers, a number planned to rise to 750 by 2015. The team plan to fire up a prototype solid fuel thorium reactor in 2015 and by 2017, the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics expects to have one that uses the more advanced but problematic  fuel, molten thorium fluoride.

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