Thorium Nuclear Reactors Mentioned by Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang mentioned Thorium Nuclear Reactors as one of the advanced nuclear fission reactor concepts. Yang has also talked about making a prototype thorium reactor by 2027. There is a US startup working on a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. If Flibe Energy was fully funded then they could build their planned 20-50 MW modular nuclear reactor by 2027. China also has an extensive molten salt and thorium reactor program. It is also possible to have more conventional reactors or pebble bed reactors adapted to use some thorium.

Yang has proposed nuclear subsidy—$50 billion over five years. If there was that level of subsidy, then the other advanced nuclear projects would complete for it. There would be a lot of push for the molten salt reactors that use Uranium. The Thorcon molten salt reactor seems like a design that could scale to 100 GW per year of construction. In the rest of this article, I will review the status of the US, China and Indian Thorium reactor projects.

Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors are technically more developed than nuclear fusion. A small molten salt reactor was built and operated by the US in the 1960s. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors can be ultra-safe, no nuclear waste, hyper-efficient and very low cost. Conventional nuclear fission reactors are the safest energy in terms of deaths per terawatt hour. Conventional nuclear can be built at very low cost. 80% of the new reactors being built are being built in or by China, South Korea and Russia. Those reactors are being built in 4 to 6 years and at three times lower cost than recent US and European reactors. The nuclear power in France which powers 70% of french electricity was built in the 1980s and provides energy that is about three times cheaper than the build up of solar and wind that has been going on in Germany since 2000.

India has the design of an Advanced Heavy Water Reactor that would use thorium. The design of the 300 MWe AHWR (920 MWt, 284 MWe net) was completed early in 2014 at BARC. It is mainly a thorium-fuelled reactor but is versatile regarding fuel. Construction of the first one is due to start 2017 for operation about 2022 2020 for operation about 2025. Nextbigfuture bets India slips to about 2024 start and a 2030 completion.

Nextbigfuture has covered Thorium, liquid flouride thorium reactors and molten salt nuclear reactors and other advanced nuclear reactors since 2005.

I, Brian Wang, emailed and spoke with Kirk Sorensen over many years. Kirk founded Flibe Energy to develop liquid flouride thorium nuclear reactors.

In 2018, Flibe Energy was awarded $2.6M by the DOE to Develop NF3 Fluorination. In 2019, Flibe Energy gotten two GAIN vouchers ($50K-500K with 20% cost sharing). One with the Pacific National lab and one with Oak Ridge. NE-19-18706, Metal Organic Frameworks for Noble Gas Management in the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor is a type of Molten Salt Reactor. Molten Salt Reactors are Generation IV nuclear fission reactors that use molten salt as either the primary reactor coolant or as the fuel itself; they trace their origin to a series of experiments directed by Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The US Department of Energy (especially Oak Ridge NL) is collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Science on a Molten Salt-Thorium reactor program, which had a start-up budget of $350 million. Australia’s Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is also involved, along with the American Nuclear Society (ANS) on safety standards for the solid fuel TMSR, and with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) on material processing standards.

China’s Thorium Reactor 2MW Thermal Test Reactor Might Be Done in 2020

In 2011 the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced plans to commercialize a thorium-based MSR in 20 years (it is also developing non-thorium MSRs and solid fuel thorium reactors). The Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics has since employed 700 nuclear engineers for this project.

China theoretically has enough thorium to supply all its energy for the next 20,000 years.

The 2MW test reactor (2-MWth liquid fuel test reactor -TMSR-LF1) has slipped to 2020 instead of 2018. The candidate site is located in Wuwei, Gansu Province, about 2000 Km from Shanghai.

* Completed the preliminary design and pass the expert review organized by the Bureau of Major Tasks, CAS in Jun. 2018.
* Start up the processing and manufacturing of key materials and equipment, and determine the manufacturer.
* Design of equipment construction drawings was completed jointly with manufacturers in Feb. 2019.

China’s high temperature pebble reactors that are commercializing next year will also use some thorium.

The HTR-PM will pave the way for larger units based on the same module. The 600 MWe Ruijin units will effectively be three HTR-PMs. INET is in charge of R&D, and is aiming to increase the size of the 250 MWt module and use thorium in the fuel.

50 thoughts on “Thorium Nuclear Reactors Mentioned by Andrew Yang”

  1. Too many of the problems with the SST still exist: sonic boom, ozone damage, folding wing too expensive. Though the failure of aluminum to work at Mach 3 is not really a problem anymore as we have carbon fiber. It had all the political will in the world, the technology was just not there.
    This is not the case with MSR. MSR did not have wide governmental support. Every indication was this was workable technology. Killed for political reasons. If the research had been done in California or Nixon had not been elected, we would have these reactors.

  2. Yes, a sacrificial anode does sound like something that could be tried. The amount of energy being produced should by orders of magnitude exceed the cost of a block of aluminum or whatever. You could even use some of the power created to use electrolysis and turn the aluminum oxide back into aluminum for another run.

  3. Yes, I gave a poor example there. I did not mean to compare molten salt with brine. Just the principle that there are ways to deal with corrosion, e. g. sacrificial anodes and coatings or to just let it corrode for X number of years and then replace it.

  4. Ed Pheil says that without oxygen or water they’re not as corrosive. MCSFR burns thorium and uranium and plutonium and waste and warheads, and is just a simpler, cheaper design that doesn’t need emptying of waste for about 40 years.

  5. We have billions of tons of shipping on the worlds oceans. All of the ships are at least a little rusty. But we deal with it and apportion a lifespan. I am optimistic that corrosion can be dealt with, these reactor vessels wouldn’t have to last forever. As it is, one of the companies exploring the concept proposes to replace the “can” every 4 years.

  6. What was old is new again its a breeder reactor. In the 50’s Arco Idaho was the first city in the world to be lit with electricity from nuclear power. The reactor was a breeder.

  7. My point was that chlorides and other corrosive species can be avoided by choosing a different anion. Your PDF link appears to opt for fluorides (based on the first few slides), which I expect would be even more corrosive. Plus have the neutron cross-section issue that scaryjello has pointed out.

    After yesterday’s posts, I found that polyatomic anions would undergo radiolysis, and that ThS2 has too high a melting temperature (1905 C, vs 3350 C for ThO2). Maybe ThSe2 or ThTe2 (the selenide or telluride) would fit the bill, but the heavier you go the higher the neutron cross section (I think), which is also not good.

    Another option might be an alloy with some low-melting-point metal such as aluminum or gallium. But that may be difficult to make.

  8. Yes, reactors have been made from aqueous uranium containing solutions – one infamous example was unintentional.

    “The accident On September 30, 1999, a nuclear fission chain reaction occurred when Hisashi Ouchi and two of his coworkers were adding aqueous uranyl nitrate solution to a precipitation tank, causing the tank to reach a critical stage and release neutron and intense gamma radiation. Hisashi and his coworkers were making a batch of fuel for an experimental reactor.”

    BWXT was looking into making a simple aqueous reactor for medical isotope production a few years ago. One of the designers was a coworker of mine; he stated that the radiolysis was tremendous and that the system needed a nitric acid drip to keep whatever products in solution.

    I’m fairly certain that aqueous reactors would be difficult to adapt to power production.

  9. Maybe so.

    I’ve just read that uranium sulfate and uranium nitrate have been used in aqueous homogeneous reactors, so it’s not unheard of. But it says the water undergoes radiolysis. Probably the polyatomic ions would break up too. Maybe thorium sulfide (ThS_x) or thorium selenide might work for a liquid thorium reactor. Or similar with uranium. But not much info on those compounds.

  10. Don’t know which salt they use in solar thermal nor in the proposed reactors, but for example sodium chloride (NaCl) has a melting point of 800 C. Sodium sulfate (Na2SO4) melts at 884 C, and should be much less corrosive.

    However, at high temperature in the presence of reducing chemicals such as carbon it would reduce to sodium sulfide (Na2S), which may be more corrosive. So need to avoid reducing agents. And I have no idea how the SO4 anion would react to a neutron flux.

    If you have oxidation-resistant piping, such as something coated with MgO, then potassium oxide (K2O) may be appropriate. It melts at 740 C, but reacts violently with water.

    Btw, MgSO4 decomposes back to MgO at high temperature, and MgS has a melting point of 2000 C, so a MgO coating should be able to handle all of the above non-chloride salts.

    edit: But I guess for a nuclear reactor, the point is to use a uranium salt?
    edit2: With uranium, U3O8 melts at 1150 C, but decomposes to UO2 at 1300 C, and UO2 only melts at 2865 C. Not much info on other uranium compounds besides the chlorides and fluorides. Same with thorium.

  11. Liquid chloride salts have been researched by the solar concentration powerplant guys fairly extensively and they haven’t gotten them to be viable. They are way too corrosive. And it would be a harder problem with a nuclear reactor and neutron flux than with a concentrated solar plant.
    What you’re describing is very much pie in the sky and likely never economically feasible.
    It is a dead end.

  12. Dropping prices on solar and battery, fast advancements in nuclear fusion, the odds of all this coming to fruition seen rather gloomy

  13. From Gabbard’s website – ‘I support the carbon neutrality goals of the Green New Deal and the awareness it has brought across the country on the critical issues of energy independence and the climate crisis, however, I do not support “leaving the door open” to nuclear power unless and until there is a permanent solution to the problem of nuclear waste. I believe we need to invest in 100% renewable and safe energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. I also support a ban on fracking, ending the $26 billion/year in fossil fuel subsidies, as well as all subsidies or waivers to the nuclear power industry, which should itself be completely responsible for paying for its own insurance and paying the long term cost for safe storage of nuclear waste over centuries. ‘ She’s down on GM too.

  14. We no longer need to invade 3rd world countries for oil, we have plenty or oil & Nat gas. Now it’s all about global security, cause if the shit hits the fan somewhere else, it could effect the worlds economy, and all nations tied to it.

  15. Just my personal opinion and not deeply rooted in science.
    I am not so fond of the Fluoride reactor, mainly because it is not a fast reactor and also because of the Lithium isotope seperation needed before you can even start with it. It seems to me that in a fast MSR you could, after a startup with higher enriched Uranium, “burn” Uranium, spent fuel, depleted Uranium, and Thorium The Moltex design for a fast Chloride salt reactor sounds like a much better idea. Ed Pheil also makes some very good arguments for his Elysium reactor, also based on Chloride salts.
    A fast reactor would also be suitable to deal with spent fuel and help to mitigate another controversy. Not that it would make the hard core Environmentalists happy, who will never be happy until after the last human has left the planet.
    The US spent $ 8 billion on the abandoned MOX plant to deal with the Plutonium stockpile. One would think they could have built a (chloride salt ? ) reactor to deal with it for much less.

  16. Yang does not stand a chance in the election cause that would cause the oil industry money. Yang would end the need to invade third world countries for their oil. The same with Gabbard cause she would end the wars for fake reasons. That is why the corporate media like the NYT and others either ignore or attack her.
    What a F – up System this country has created,

  17. Hmm…. ignored the cost of building the plant plus the opportunity cost of making way more money investing in the S&P 500 instead. Which is 84% of the cost.
    And ignored that nuclear needs a capital infusion every 25 years for refurbishment.
    Thats operating and fuel cost only.

  18. Wait, Scary, didn’t you say the U233 was actually a good material for nuclear weapons. At least the “baby’s first nuke” level gun type?

  19. For political and historical reasons, not to mention economics, I believe nuclear is about dead on the planets surface. I do believe it will come into its own in space, especially deep space where solar panels aren’t as effective, and especially for drives for spacecraft. Fusion would be great for either power or propulsion if we can get it working, but it isn’t necessary in the near term. No EPA or NRC in space, so the sky is not the limit.

  20. You could say that a naval reactor using 95% U235 leaves twenty times less ‘waste’ than a LWR using ~4% U235. If Gates could get his fuel shuffling sorted, the same might almost be true of U238, including the depleted stuff from enrichment plants. And if U238 and the transuranics can be burnt, and fission products are useful, where’s the waste ?

  21. It’s sad that after a decade we are still no closer to a prototype reactor. By now I’d have thought we’d have something concrete

  22. I think that Yang is the only presidential candidate with a reasonable and future oriented plan for energy. The others are all completely clueless.

  23. Recycling nuclear fuel creates huge amounts of radioactively contaminated material because the processing equipment and piping gets contaminated. The chemical processing fluids also get contaminated. Dealing with the mess is an operational and maintenance nightmare. Then you have to find a place to put the radioactive mess. These chemical processing facilities are also stupefyingly expensive. The French facilities have cost almost $20 billion.

    All this effort causes the recycled fuel to be extremely expensive and not remotely cost effective.

    Better approach is to employ very efficient reactors that inherently reduce fuel needs and subsequent amounts of spent fuel. Fundamentally, that means a high temperature gas reactor and gas turbine/generator.

    The only advantage I can see with thorium is that it does not transform in a reactor to plutonium, which is a good material nuclear weapons. Thorium transforms into a form of uranium that is a very poor material for weapons while being difficult to process because it is very radioactive.

  24. This is direct from the government site. If one is included within the other, that is the way they did it. But the categories are probably distinct. Definitely not clear though. They do have some clarifying notes at the bottom…but they don’t clarify much.
    The numbers are in mills which apparently are tenths of a cent, which is why I moved the decimal to make it cents.
    I agree it leaves much to be desired. It would be nice to see each type with its own numbers. If they just mean coal, it would be nice if they would say “coal”. There are a lot of different kinds of power plants and storage. They have a list somewhere. It is massive.

    My guess is that the lumped coal with oil and called it “fossil”. But there is only a trivial amount of oil…so coal would drown out any effects from oil price differences. Also methane is natural gas, but methane can come from lots of different sources. There are projects that collect methane from garbage and ones that collect it from animal feces, water treatment…

    Nonetheless, we can see that nuclear is cheaper and hydro is the cheapest.

  25. Sorry Mindbreaker, but you’ve misinterpreted what’s going on.

    Indeed the very article you linked to explains the issue. Look at paragraph four:

    Although the terms are often used interchangeably, cardiac arrest is different and medically distinct from a heart attack

    Heart attacks are commonly survived (in modern times). Most people will know people who’ve had heart attacks. Cardiac arrest means the heart has stopped beating. That’s going to kill you unless you get the right medical attention right now.

  26. I was actually looking at these slides yesterday. Does anybody see the timeline on the second to last slide? It’s talkin about a 3 megawatt test reactor in the next decade and demo facility the 2040s. I retire in 2042. This schedule is less aggressive than ITER guys.

  27. He is from the South. Going to be a challenge for him to start eating healthy. And you can tell just from his exuberance…he has got to love food. Exercise? Or maybe a good scare and the realization that he wants to be around for his kids and grandchildren. Most people don’t get a warning, they just get a big heart attack and that is it. Just 6% survive a surprise heart attack:
    Years ago I thought it was like 75% surviving that first heart attack. I was shocked when I read only 6% survive. I think my impression was distorted because my grandmother survived four, I think.

  28. this is classic “what is” versus “what you think should be”.

    You know you’re preaching to the choir with me.

  29. The idea that any reactor, however designed or fueled, would leave no waste is so profoundly wrong, mythical even, that I’m not going to bother to dispel your conspiracy theory. I might as well try again to explain the war of the currents and how AC transformers work to my retired middle school English teacher mother.

  30. Startup wants to know if it’s on the right track?

    It’s not.

    If the government wants something built they’ll do it the way they did it the first time. They’ll have the labs work with GE to develop something like the BWR, and then they will permit GE to commercialize it.

    There are no startups in this game where you can’t even buy insurance. 10 years ago, before a billion dollars was spent, NuScale was kinda like a startup, but Fluor is not… neither is Framatome, which owns the core design. Oh and it’s a pwr.

  31. <blockquote>With such attributes, I wonder why there are none in service. /s</blockquote>

    Naturally because “no nuclear waste” is sometimes a pretty big disadvantage. Particularly during the Cold War…

  32. And the scientists and engineers who built those reactors 50 years ago would have long ago finished these new reactors.
    The problem is – those people are retired or dead.
    And the new generations of scientists and engineers obviously can’t build new reactors.

    Did you know USA can’t make the tritium needed for its nuclear weapons?
    Attempts to produce tritium failed.
    This resulted in new attempts to produce tritium, which were not yet fully funded – as per the 2018 nuclear posture review:

  33. It is cheaper than coal, if they build several large reactors all of the same design. Could be even less if they are thorium, but that is speculation, as we don’t have any. In theory, they should be. They use the fuel much more completely, don’t need as much safety stuff, and thorium is much cheaper. The unknowns are the materials requirements, durability of those materials, and the chemical separation technology that needs to be part of the loop.
    Decommissioning funds actually become a problem, as they are rewarded for shutting down a plant. They can then get their hands on all the money. This makes unscrupulous companies shut down early to give themselves big bonuses.

    Hmm…Nuclear is cheaper than coal or natural gas now according to the EIA 2018 figures:

    Hydro is 1.065 cents/kWh
    Nuclear is 2.386 cents/kWh
    Gas turbine and small scale is 3.243 cents/kWh
    Fossil is 3.586 cents/kWh

    Consumers don’t get these prices as there are transmission costs, profit taking (supply and demand), oversupply waste, other utility employees not at the plant, offices, programs, political campaign contributions, fat board member compensation, pensions, settlements for stupidity in the past, legal team for any ongoing litigation, and cleanup costs.

    PG&E spent, for example, $79 million on lobbying 2008-10

  34. Elon Musk goes fast by building quick prototypes, watching them blow up, and fixing the problems. The government doesn’t let you do that with nuclear reactors.

    In fact, in the U.S. we go overboard in the other direction. You have to spend several hundred million dollars on a near-complete design, and only after that you submit it to the NRC. Then they give a flat yes or no and if you were lucky then you can start building hardware.

    I’ve heard directly from people at reactor startups that if they could just have a more phased process and get some earlier indication from the NRC about whether they’re on the right track, it’d be a lot easier to get investors.


    History just been wait’n for Elon.

    There’s no real reason to build any nukes unless environmental concerns become monetized. They’re not competitive with fossil. They’re not, as Hargraves puts it, “cheaper than coal.”

  36. Is this something else Elon Musk has to take on? What’s with ridiculously long schedules for building reactors that then keep slipping? What are they doing, building one part then taking off three months to meditate about whether it seems right? How can executing ANY plan to build a machine like this take ten years?

    These are reactor designs that are just updating reactors already built 50 years ago!

  37. “Yang has proposed nuclear subsidy—$50 billion over five years.”

    Well, I guess it’s too bad for me (specifically) that Yang doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected…

    Time for Sorensen to start eating better or he’s not going to see the future he is so keen on building.

    “Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors can be ultra-safe, no nuclear waste, hyper-efficient and very low cost.”

    With such attributes, I wonder why there are none in service. /s

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