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.
OAK RIDGE IN CHINA
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