Posted by Mark Halper

Talking the talk. Weinberg’s vision of safe nuclear power based on designs like the thorium molten salt reactor make sense in any tongue. Above, Japan’s Dr. Moto-yasu Kinoshita of the University of Tokyo and the Thorium Molten-Salt Forum displays a Chinese language copy of Weinberg’s autobiography last week   in Shanghai.

Amid the overarching vision and technological updates at last week’s Thorium Energy Conference 2012 in Shanghai, there was a book making the rounds that spoke volumes for the global reach of the ideas hatched by Dr. Alvin Weinberg some 50 years ago.

The book had a familiar title to it, but you wouldn’t know it at first if you didn’t read Mandarin.

That’s it in the picture above with the smart black and red cover.

Yes, it’s Weinberg’s autobiography, The First Nuclear Era – The Life and Times of a Technological Fixer  – translated into Chinese and proudly displayed at last week’s conference by Dr. Moto-yasu Kinoshita of the University of Tokyo, who is also vice president of the International Thorium Molten-Salt Forum. Dr. Kinoshita reads Mandarin.

China has kept an eye on thorium and liquid fuel reactors since at least the 1960s, when Dr. Weinberg was building his thorium molten salt reactor (TMSR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Research held its first national conference on thorium back in 1965, and by 1971, the Shanghai Institute of Applied physics had built a zero-power molten salt reactor.


So it’s no wonder that after the guru of thorium molten salt reactors, Weinberg, published his autobiography in 1994, a Chinese translation quickly follow in 1996, published by China’s Atomic Power Publisher.

The book is a broad sweep of  Weinberg’s career in nuclear development and includes accounts of how the safe, non-proliferating reactors that he advocated, such as the TMSR, lost to more dangerous and inferior solid fuel uranium reactors that have come to define the industry.

It’s fair to assume that Weinberg’s thorium research, his writings, and his advocacy of safe nuclear have influenced China’s own thorium molten salt development.

China could now be on course to complete a liquid thorium molten salt reactor before any one else does, although as we reported last week, the Chinese Academy of Science’s Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) has pushed back its target completion date for a small test reactor by 3 years, to 2020.


And the tradition of gleaning wisdom from Oak Ridge continues, as SINAP is collaborating with the laboratory and with other U.S. Department of Energy entities to help it perfect its TMSR.

At last week’s conference, Jiang Mianheng, the head of  the Shanghai branch of CAS and the son of China’s former leader Jiang Zemin – who ruled when Weinberg published his book – painted a future in which TMSRs will help China gain energy independence by generating carbon free electricity and by providing heat for industrial processes, including hydrogen extraction.

It will have happened with more than a little inspiration from the man in Tennessee.

Photo by Mark Halper



  1. Martin Kral says:

    If I could afford 535 copies of this book in Chinese, I would send it to our US Congress. It appears they can’t read English. Alvin Weinberg’s story is a travesty in any language. What would the world be like if Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, Ford and others had to deal with today’s bureaucracy? The Chinese are building a Thorium Based Hydrogen Economy. Now that is what I call Econ-101.

  2. ROBERTM says:

    The Chinese will do what is best for china. Thorium is the future of world energy. Thorium is clean, safe, and above all cheap as sand.

    China is a major economy with decade long leadership, and extremely hard working and skilled people. I believe china will take advantage of thorium, and export it to the entire world.

    As an American, I am happy that someone will take advantage of thorium’s clean, safe, cheap energy. China again will be first to eat the crab.

  3. Ritsuo Yoshioka says:

    Hello, Mark Halper
    One small correction.

    >by 1971, the Shanghai Institute of Applied physics had built a zero-power molten salt reactor.

    As SINAP explained, it was a solid-salt reactor, that is they did not use melted salt.
    Even so, this was a surprising event, because it was just after ORNL’s experimental reactor :MSRE has shut-down in 1969.

    This Chinese first salt reactor was not known before 2010 in the western world.
    (even in China?)
    So, when I heard it from SINAP in 2010, I was very much surprised.

    Ritsuo Yoshioka
    International Thorium Molten-Salt Forum

  4. Gordon McDowell says:

    I can’t purchase this title on Amazon (Canadian store), and am under the impression the “ebook” format it can be downloaded in is not supported on Kindles.

    Kindle not supported:

    Publisher (Springer) porting books to Kindle:

    …so I’m guessing this title is a low priority for Springer.

    I’d love to have it on my Kindle. But more importantly I’d love for others to see it on Amazon and their Kindles as an electronic title.

    I assume Springer holds the copyright, so could someone bring this to their attention?

    And if Springer can’t make it a priority, by what means can the book be moved to a publisher who will make it a priority? Can the copyright be purchased? If this gets moved into the Public Domain I can see to it that it propagates far more effectively. Any idea what that would cost? (Buying back the copyright?)

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