Posts Tagged Shanghai

HuXongjie AnilKakodkar IndiaTHEC13 Dinner

China’s Xu Hongjie (r) and India’s Anil Kakodkar chat after dinner at the Thorium Energy Conference in Geneva this week. Xu leads China’s TMSR programme. Kakodkar, former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and one-time head of the country’s Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, champions thorium use in his country.

GENEVA – Thorium-fueled high temperature reactors could help alleviate China’s energy and environmental problems – including water shortages – by providing not only low carbon electricity but also clean heat for industrial processes and power for hydrogen production, the scientist in charge of developing the reactors said here.

Xu Hongjie of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shanghai indicated that one of the two reactors he’s developing should be ready in a 100-megawatt demonstrator version by 2024, and for full deployment by 2035. A second one, based on liquid thorium fuel instead of solid, would come later, he said, hinting that it might not yet have full government financial backing.

In a presentation at the Thorium Energy Conference 2013 (ThEC13) here, he referred to both reactors as thorium molten salt reactors (TMSR). The solid fuel version uses “pebble bed” fuel – much different from today’s fuel rods – and molten salt coolant. The liquid version uses a thorium fuel mixed with molten salt. Both run at significantly higher temperatures than conventional reactors, making them suitable as industrial heat sources in industries such as cement, steel, and oil and chemicals. The thorium can also reduce the waste and the weapons proliferation threat compared to conventional reactors.

“The TMSR gets support from the Chinese government, just because China is faced with a very serious challenge, not only for energy, but also for the environment,” Xu said. He noted that several regions of China face water shortages in large part because China’s many coal-fired power plants require water for for cooling, as do China’s 17 conventional nuclear reactors.

“Water scarcity is very serious for China,” he said. “Most of the water has been consumed by electricity companies – for coal but also nuclear.”

GIGAWATTS AND GIGAWATTS

Nuclear reactors will help slow the growth of China’s CO2 emissions. The country today gets about 80 percent of its electricity from CO2-spewing fossil fuels. As China ramps up generating capacity to an estimated 3,000 gigawatts by 2030 – more than double today’s level – it will need to find low-carbon sources to mitigate climate change consequences.

Xu is the director of CAS’ of Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR), based at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, overseeing what he said is a $400 million project (China has described it in the past as $350 million). He calls the solid fuel reactor a “TMSR-SF,” and the liquid reactor a “TMSR-LF”.

One of two timelines (see below) that Xu included in his presentation showed that he expects to complete a 2-megawatt pilot for the solid fuel version by around 2015, and a 100-MW demonstrator model of the same by 2024, before readying it for live use in 2035 in “small modular” form (general industry nomenclature would call the solid fuel version an “FHR”, or fluoride salt-cooled high temperature reactor).

That timeline did not show a target date for a 2-MW liquid-fueled pilot reactor, which a year ago appeared to have slipped from 2017 to 2020. It did, however, show a 10-MW liquid-fueled pilot at around 2024, and a demonstrator version by 2035. It did not include a commercialization date. “For liquid, we still need the financial support from the government,” Xu said (story continues below chart).

XuHongjie TMSR Timeline

Solidifying the future. The solid fuel (TMSR-SF) molten salt cooled thorium reactor will be ready before the liquid fuel model (LF).

Xu explained that the liquid version requires more complicated development than the solid version, such as “reprocessing of highly radioactive fuel salts.” But the reprocessing, when worked out, will become an advantage because it will allow re-use of spent fuel, whereas the “open” fuel cycle of the solid version will not, he noted. Xu said that the solid fuel version is a “precursor” to the liquid-fuel reactor.

A second timeline showed plans for developing larger TMSRs, with a 1-gigawatt capacity. It showed “commercialization” for the solid fuel version by around 2040, when the liquid 1-GW machine would reach a “demonstrator” state. The timeline does not show commercialization plans for the 1-GW liquid version. It does, however, show that a 2-MW “experimental” liquid TMSR could by ready by around 2017 (story continues below chart).

XuHongjie 1GW TMSR Timeline

This slide, part of Xu Hongjie’s presentation, shows the timeline for a large TMSR, and suggests it would be used for hydrogen production.

After his presentation, I asked Xu to clarify the difference between the two timelines and the state of government financing, but he declined.

The second timeline shows the 1-GW reactors going to work for hydrogen production, a process that China mentioned at last year’s conference, held in Shanghai. Xu reiterated that China would combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide to form methanol, a clean energy source.

MULTIPLE USES

China has also talked about using TMSRs for coal gasification, and to convert coal to olefin and coal to diesel.

Xu told me the TMSRs would be used for electricity generation as well, although one slide in his presentation notes that the aim is to develop “non-electric” applications. Earlier this week at the conference, Nobel prize winning physicist Carlo Rubbia repeated an observation of his from a few years ago that China could generate the 2007 equivalent of its total electricity production – 3.2 trillion kWh, using a relatively small amount of thorium.

With those ambitious plans and with the program currently funded at around $400 million, Xu suggested that at some next stage the TMSR program will need an extra $2 billion “for the whole alternatives.”

China is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy on the molten salt-cooled reactor, which is the only publicly declared MSR programme in the world with funding in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The four-day ThEC, which ended on Thursday, included a clarion call from former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix for thorium fuel as an anti-proliferation choice, and an equally loud entreaty by Rubbia who said thorium has “pre-eminence” over uranium, the conventional nuclear fuel. One big uranium devotee, nuclear giant Areva, announced a thorium collaboration with Belgian chemical company Solvay.

The conference, on the campus of international physics lab CERN, featured lively discussions of how best to deploy thorium, including driving them with particle accelerators, and using uranium isotopes to start a thorium fission reaction.

Photo of Xu Hongjie and Anil Kakodkar is by Mark Halper.

Charts are from Xu Hongjie’s ThEC13 presentation.

Greetings from the Shanghai Synchrotron

Posted by Mark Halper on October 31st, 2012

Slow curves on the outside, fast ones on the inside. China opened the synchrotron in 2009.

SHANGHAI – Today’s blog is a post card from Shanghai that ties right into this morning’s proceedings at the Thorium Energy Conference 2012 where, you could say, things really accelerated.

Just after downing breakfast dumplings, we heard engaging presentations about how particle accelerators can provide the oomph that releases neutrons that can start a safe thorium nuclear reaction. So-called “accelerator driven systems” are just one of several ways to stir up thorium, the fuel that augers a peaceful nuclear future.

So it was fitting that in the afternoon we trundled off to have a look at a handy, nearby accelerator built by the same people who as we said yesterday are building a liquid thorium molten salt reactor  – the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP), which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In this case the accelerator was a synchrotron. It’s probably not the sort of accelerator you might use to release neutrons to start a thorium nuclear reaction (another time we’ll tell you more about what experts like Bob Cywinski of the UK’s University of Huddersfield have in mind for that), but one certainly suitable for all sorts of other things that are useful to humanity – medical cures and health diagnostics, just for starters.

JUST POINT AND SHOOT

The Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility is a 432-metre long ring that is actually a giant 3D camera taking stunningly detailed and clear images inside tiny things, such as a mouse’s heart (mouse heart fans can skip to photo below now). Using a combination of electron beams, magnets, radiation and optics, it makes x-rays look Stone Age.

SSRF is testimony to the technological and scientific zeitgeist that is driving China – the same spirit that is leading the country into alternative nuclear power technologies like thorium.

The synchrotron is the envy of many a scientist, such as Jean-Pierre Revol, the leader of the ALICE particle accelerator team at the much better known CERN laboratory in Geneva. He’s at the thorium conference advocating accelerator technology as a neutron release mechanism.

Revol lauded the Chinese for building the facility, which he called “state of the art” and “very impressive.” That’s something, coming from a guy who works on a daily basis with CERN’s renowned 17-mile long Large Hadron Collider.

Have a look and see what you think. That’s the rolling building that houses the operation, at the top of this story. Here’s what we saw in the interior today:

THE GREAT HALL OF ELECTRON BEAMS

Look out for 3.5 billion electron volts on the other side of that white wall.

THE SSRF PHOTO ALBUM – THESE WERE ON SCREEN THIS AFTERNOON

Mouse lung:

Makes it look like Mighty Mouse.

Mouse heart:

Move over Braveheart. This is some corazon.

Grasshopper breathing:

This is a still shot from a video that was playing on an SSRF screen today. Sorry, no surround sound.

SYNCHRONIZED CYCLING

How to travel around a synchrotron when you’re not an electron beam.

SYNCHROTRON GOERS ARE RAVING

What do you get a man like Jean-Pierre Revol of CERN when he already has a Large Hadron Collider? Try a synchrotron. Revol, pictured outside the entrance, called the SSRF “state of the art” and “very impressive.”

Photos: SSRF exterior from India TV News. All other photos by Mark Halper, including those of SSRF images.

Completion date slips for China’s thorium molten salt reactor

Posted by Mark Halper on October 30th, 2012

Waving off worries. Xu Hongjie, director of the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor Center, says an expanding   staff of young scientists gives the project a “bright future.”

SHANGHAI – China has pushed back the intended completion date for its test thorium molten salt reactor, from 2017 to 2020, the head of the project indicated here today.

In a presentation at the Thorium Energy Conference 2012, Xu Hongjie, director of the TMSR Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), showed a slide stating a 2020 completion date for the 2-megawatt reactor.

That’s three years later than the 2017 set out by CAS’ Dr. Chen Kun last August in his TMSR presentation to a group of academics at the University of California Berkeley.

According to Dr. Xu’s slide today, CAS has also pushed back the target date for a 2-megawatt molten salt cooled, solid fuel thorium pebble bed reactor, from the original 2015 to 2017 – although Xu seemed to say 2015 in his talk.

Whether intentional or not, Dr. Xu did not voice any date for the TMSR. The slide accompanying his talk clearly shows 2020.

During an impromptu chat afterwards, Dr. Xu would not characterize the new date as a delay. Nor did he explain in detail why CAS has pushed back the timeline.

“You need a margin,” Dr. Xu told me. “Maybe something happens.”

Sliding back. Dr. Xu’s slide shows completion dates of 2017 and 2020, respectively, for the thorium       pebble bed and thorium liquid molten salt reactors – 2 and 3 years later that previously indicated.

China approved the project in Jan. 2011. That’s practically “yesterday” in traditional nuclear development time, so the country’s original targets of 2015 and 2017 struck some people as over ambitious.

But given China’s reputation for getting things done, others found the original timescale to be plausible.

The new timescale seems to reflect the significant design challenges that have been evident over the first two days of the conference, where experts from China and around the world have described various hurdles to the thorium molten salt reactor. Among them:

  • Developing materials or processes that can withstand corrosive salts, temperatures much higher than conventional nuclear, and radiation.
  • Assuring that the failsafe “freeze plug” works and thus allows TMSRs to live up to the claim that they are “meltdown proof.” In a TMSR, a plug melts when the reactor overheats, allowing the liquid fuel to drain into a safe tank.
  • Developing processes for the safe removal of actinides. Although TMSRs do not leave behind the longer living wastes of conventional uranium reactors, they still produce toxic elements, albeit with a shorter lifespan.

CAS, through its Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) division, could be well equipped to tackle these issues.

YOUTH MOVEMENT

Xu hopes to more than double his TMSR staff from 334 to 750 by 2015, hiring specialists in reactor physics, molten salts, materials, radioactivity and safety – from abroad as well as domestically.

Xu also said that the project’s youthfulness will help. Over 80 percent of its staff is under 39 years old – half are between 20 and 29 – and he is actively recruiting young scientists.

“Our team is very young, so we will be having a bright future,” he said.

In August, Dr. Chun said the test TMSR project had a $350 million budget

CAS/SINAP plans to follow its test 2-megawatt reactor with a 10-megawatt demonstrator and a 100-megawatt pilot.

Thorium molten salt reactors in principle run more efficiently than conventional reactors, produce less dangerous waste, reduce the weapons proliferation risk and eliminate the possibility of a meltdown.

China plans to use TMSRs not only to generate clean electricity, but also as a carbon-free heat source for industrial processes, the president of CAS’ Shanghai branch, Jiang Mianheng, said at the conference yesterday.

Photos by Mark Halper

Thorium takes a ride on the traveling wave

Posted by Mark Halper on October 30th, 2012

Imagine Bill Gates’ traveling wave reactor with thorium inside. Tsinghua University did.

SHANGHAI – It’s well known in thorium circles that China is enthusiastic about thorium’s prospects. The country is developing several different reactor types running on the fuel, including liquid molten salt, pebble bed and CANDU reactors.

You could now add “travelling wave reactor” to the list. Sort of.

For anyone who might have forgotten, the TWR is the fast reactor that Bill Gates’ nuclear company, TerraPower, is working on. It requires a starter kit of fissile material, and then runs for up to 60 years on depleted uranium, by converting the uranium to plutonium.

No one has a traveling wave reactor yet. But if you have a powerful enough computer, you can simulate how thorium would perform inside one.

That’s exactly what Beijng’s Tsinghua Univeristy has done.

“We tried to use thorium in a travelling wave reactor,” Tsinghua’s Dr. Yu Ganglin told the Thorium Energy Conference 2012 in Shanghai on Monday, from where we’re reporting this week and where thorium is shaping up as a contributor to national energy independence.

Yu presented a session called “Utilization of thorium fuel in different reactor designs.”

Thinking outside the box. Tsinghua University has a fancy computer that allows it to simulate thorium’s performance in unconventional reactors like the traveling wave, as shown by this slide at the Thorium     Energy Conference.

It’s not entirely clear what the results were.  Still, it’s noteworthy that thorium is getting attention in yet another reactor type.

TerraPower itself continues to rule out thorium.

“The first TWR and subsequent commercial reactors will be using depleted uranium,” a an independent spokeswoman for TerraPower  told me by email. “They have explored thorium in conceptual designs, but they decided there were too many issues to pursue engineering designs.”

Last December, the media was popping with reports that Gates and TerraPower were working on a deal to cooperate with China National Nuclear Corp. on TWR development.  But that has not materialized, nor has any formal development pact with a Chinese group.

“TerraPower attends a lot of technical conferences and shares their publications with colleagues around the world, including China,” the spokeswoman said. “There aren’t any business contracts at this time.” That may be the case in China, although elsewhere in Asia, India’s Reliance Industries late last year bought a minority interest in Gates’ company.

Yes, that’s the same India that has all those thorium reserves. For now, there seems to be no connection.

Images: Traveling wave reactor from TerraPower website. Slide from Dr. Yu Ganglin, Tsinghua University.

Want to know more about thorium? Get ye to Shanghai

Posted by Mark Halper on October 5th, 2012

China looks set to fuel its growth with nuclear power, including thorium. There will be plenty of thorium talk   in Shanghai (above) this month.

The future of CO2-free energy relies on thorium-fuelled nuclear power and other alternative nuclear technologies that will replace the uranium-powered water-cooled reactors prevalent today.

And no country is doing more in thorium research and development than China – so much so that as we noted in a recent post, some people believe that Western countries will end up licensing thorium technologies from Beijing.

So it is fitting that this year the Thorium Energy Conference heads to the country of 1.3 billion people, where it kicks off on Oct. 29 in Shanghai, co-sponsored by the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINAP) – part of the government’s Chinese Academy of Sciences – and by the International Thorium Energy Organization (IThEO).

The conference organizers have released a list of sessions spanning the 4 days and drawing in speakers from around the world including China, Japan, the U.S., Russia and the Czech Republic. It all promises answers to burning questions about thorium.

Want to learn more about how China is leading the pack on the thorium trail? Then drop in on the session China, the center of world environment, resource and energy —using thorium as a key, given by Takashi Kamei from Japan’s Research Institute for Applied Sciences.

Or maybe you’ve noticed that the thorium community itself disagrees on how best to deploy the fuel.  Should you put it in conventional rods in water-cooled reactors? Or should you optimize it with alternative reactor designs? Which reactor design – molten salt? Pebble bed? Accelerator driven? The session Utilization of Thorium Fuel in different reactor design should help clarify, presented by Ganglin Yu and Kan Wang.

If you’ve been keeping your ear to the thorium ground, you might have heard rumblings about a liquid thorium reactor initiative in the Czech Republic. For more information, drop by a session by the chief scientist of that country’s Nuclear Research Institute, Miloslav Hron, who will provide an update on the project (with a session title too long to write here!).

What’s a conference like this without an author heralding the technology’s arrival? The thorium world’s latest such scribbler, Robert Hargraves, will present his new book, Thorium energy cheaper than coal, in a session by the same name. Hargrave’s recently published work followed quickly on the heels of Richard Martin’s thorium homage, Superfuel, released earlier this year.

And if you want to get into the debate of exactly how safe and bomb-free thorium power is, there are sessions on actinides, waste, and related. You can find a full list of presentations here.

We’ll be there, blogging away.

But between now and then we’ll bring you plenty more news, updates and analysis of thorium and alternative nuclear developments. Apropos to the Chinese theme, watch for our overview of a SINAP molten salt thorium project, for instance.

We’ll also bring you up to date on a thorium-focused pebble bed reactor that is taking shape in South Africa. In the process, our thorium trail will descend into a rare earth mine. You never know where else it might wander.

Stay with us.

Photo: J. Patrick Fischer via Wikimedia.

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