China’s 2 Megawatt Molten-salt Thorium Nuclear Reactor Has Start up Approval

Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) has been given approval by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment to commission an experimental thorium-powered molten-salt reactor. This is the first molten salt nuclear reactor since the US shutdown a test reactor in 1969.

The TMSR-LF1 will use fuel enriched to under 20% U-235, have a thorium inventory of about 50 kg and conversion ratio of about 0.1. A fertile blanket of lithium-beryllium fluoride (FLiBe) with 99.95% Li-7 will be used, and fuel as UF4.

The project is expected to start on a batch basis with some online refueling and removal of gaseous fission products, but discharging all fuel salt after 5-8 years for reprocessing and separation of fission products and minor actinides for storage. It will proceed to a continuous process of recycling salt, uranium and thorium, with online separation of fission products and minor actinides. The reactor will work up from about 20% thorium fission to about 80%.

Some videos that I have made explaining other Molten Salt projects and the potential of nuclear molten salt.

If the TMSR-LF1 proves successful, China plans to build a reactor with a capacity of 373 MWt by 2030.

In January 2011, CAS launched a CNY3 billion (USD444 million) R&D programme on liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs), known there as the thorium-breeding molten-salt reactor (Th-MSR or TMSR), and claimed to have the world’s largest national effort on it, hoping to obtain full intellectual property rights on the technology. This is also known as the fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactor (FHR). The TMSR Centre at SINAP at Jiading, Shanghai, is responsible.

Construction of the 2 MWt TMSR-LF1 reactor began in September 2018 and was reportedly completed in August 2021. The prototype was scheduled to be completed in 2024, but work was accelerated.

Nextbigfuture Was One of the First Online to Follow and Promote Thorium

Nextbigfuture has been following and promoting the revival of Thorium and molten salt reactors for over a decade.
Nextbigfuture was covering Thorium back in 2006.

Here is a 2011 interview with Kirk Sorenson.

Molten Salt Nuclear Background

Molten salt and thorium reactors are inherently safer and can have less nuclear waste (aka unused nuclear fuel.) Nuclear fuel is unused because even numbered isotopes are harder to split or react. Fast reactors have neutrons moving at higher speeds (one hundred times faster) needed to cause uranium 238 to react into plutonium.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the United States operated an experimental 7.34 MW (th) MSR from 1965 to 1969, in a trial known as the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE). This demonstrated the feasibility of liquid-fuelled reactors cooled by molten salts.

China has been developing waterless nuclear reactors. Construction work on the first commercial molten salt reactor should be completed by 2030. This will allow the construction of such nuclear reactors even in desert regions and in the plains of central and western China. The molten salt reactor will be powered by liquid thorium instead of uranium.

SINAP has two streams of TMSR development – solid fuel (TRISO in pebbles or prisms/blocks) with once-through fuel cycle, and liquid fuel (dissolved in fluoride coolant) with reprocessing and recycle. A third stream of fast reactors to consume actinides from LWRs is planned. The aim is to develop both the thorium fuel cycle and non-electrical applications in a 20-30 year timeframe.

*The TMSR-SF stream has only partial utilization of thorium, relying on some breeding as with U-238, and needing fissile uranium input as well. It is optimized for high-temperature based hybrid nuclear energy applications. SINAP aimed at a 2 MW pilot plant initially, though this has been superseded by a simulator (TMSR-SF0). A 100 MWt demonstration pebble bed plant (TMSR-SF2) with open fuel cycle is planned by about 2025. TRISO particles will be with both low-enriched uranium and thorium, separately.

* The TMSR-LF stream claims full closed Th-U fuel cycle with breeding of U-233 and much better sustainability with thorium but greater technical difficulty. It is optimized for utilization of thorium with electrometallurgical pyroprocessing.

*SINAP aims for a 2 MWt pilot plant (TMSR-LF1) initially, then a 10 MWt experimental reactor (TMSR-LF2) by 2025, and a 100 MWt demonstration plant (TMSR-LF3) with full electrometallurgical reprocessing by about 2035, followed by 1 a GW demonstration plant. The TMSR-LF timeline is about ten years behind the SF one.

A TMSFR-LF fast reactor optimized for burning minor actinides is to follow.

The TMSR-SF0 is one-third scale and has a 370 kW electric heat source with FLiNaK primary coolant at 650°C and FLiNaK secondary coolant.

The 10 MWt TMSR-SF1 has 17% enriched TRISO fuel in 60mm pebbles, similar to HTR-PM fuel, and coolant at 630°C and low pressure. Primary coolant is FLiBe (with 99.99% Li-7) and secondary coolant is FLiNaK. Core height is 3 m, diameter 2.85 m, in a 7.8 m high and 3 m diameter pressure vessel. Residual heat removal is passive, by cavity cooling. A 20-year operating life was envisaged but the project is discontinued.

The 2 MWt TMSR-LF1 is under construction at Wu Wei in Gansu in a $3.3 billion programme. It will use fuel enriched to under 20% U-235, have a thorium inventory of about 50 kg and conversion ratio of about 0.1. FLiBe with 99.95% Li-7 would be used, and fuel as UF4. The project would start on a batch basis with some online refueling and removal of gaseous fission products, but discharging all fuel salt after 5-8 years for reprocessing and separation of fission products and minor actinides for storage. It would proceed to a continuous process of recycling salt, uranium and thorium, with online separation of fission products and minor actinides. It would work up from about 20% thorium fission to about 80%.

Beyond these, a 373 MWt/168 MWe liquid-fuel MSR small modular reactor is planned, with supercritical CO2 cycle in a tertiary loop at 23 MPa using Brayton cycle, after a radioactive isolation secondary loop. Various applications as well as electricity generation are envisaged. It would be loaded with 15.7 tonnes of thorium and 2.1 tonnes of uranium (19.75% enriched), with one kilogram of uranium added daily, and have 330 GWd/t burn-up with 30% of energy from thorium. Online refueling would enable eight years of operation before shutdown, with the graphite moderator needing attention

16 thoughts on “China’s 2 Megawatt Molten-salt Thorium Nuclear Reactor Has Start up Approval”

  1. It’s true that there is lots of uranium on Earth and its abundance should be sufficient to provide for human civilization’s energy needs for a few hundred years—give or take depending on the population trajectory and mix of fuels in the economy (e.g. all cars becoming electric-powered); however, IIRC, there is 10x more thorium by mass. Therefore, if we can develop an at least roughly comparably efficient cycle out of thorium then for reasons of redundancy and robustness it would be prudent to do so. Of course, if we are able to make breakthroughs with fusion technology, the thorium cycle will largely be moot. But for now our scientific establishment should have lots of rods in the fire—some will end up being used; others not. But we can’t know which will be which in the present.

    • There is enough uranium and thorium for 10 billion people to consume 10 kW continuous for the next billion years.

      10 tonnes of average crust. Not ore; not even granite or phosphate rock or shale or something with reasonable concentrations; just your average junk bedrock; provides enough uranium and thorium for a 100 year lifetime of 10 kWth continous.

      LWRs are limited. If you only use 1% of the energy, you can only access the uranium available at about 10 times current cost (~a few hundred times current reserves). With breeders not only do you get 100 times the energy, but *everything is ore*. The low hanging fruit may be sea water mining of uranium as uranium has an equilibrium in the ocean and if you offset that equilibrium significantly you can capture most of the inflows instead of inflow and outflow being in balance; that’s a few tens of thousands of tons per year from a 4 billion tonne inventory that’s continually in the oceans.

      10 kW for 10 billion people requires ~41 000 tonnes of fully fission U or Th.

      There is plenty of time to solve fusion or find alternative means of scaling energy consumption if it is necessary for some reason or other. There is not a lot of time to stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere if we want to avoid fairly ugly consequences (in the long term, it will be fine either way).

    • We have 20 trillion years of U in the ocean.Japanese have already shown an easy method of extraction when prices rise from their current low points, so, availability of fuel isn’t a choke point.
      Great article. Terrestrial Energy IMSR can burn Th.

    • You will always find somebody who is against something. M.V. Ramanama is known to be against anything nuclear. He has never written anything objective about nuclear. His bias allows him to make up his own facts.

  2. Why are you taking down my posts? They are highly accurate technical observations that cast doubt on the proposed technology.
    Looks to me like Nextbigfuture is nothing more than a shrill for select points of view.
    In point of fact, I have over 50 years of experience in the nuclear industry and have several advanced reactor patents. Perhaps you should listen to my observations.

    • Don’t ascribe to malice what is more easily blamed on incompetence.

      Brian provides an entertaining and useful site, but has not, in over a decade, been able to keep a stable, sustainable comment system up and running. Despite the comments being a major, loadbearing, part of the site.

      I, for one, would think that an article about the problems with site comment technology is due.

  3. The technical, safety, and operational problems with the technology are legion.
    The fuel’s fission products create all manner of material issues that challenge the ability of steels to contain the chemical soup. Circulating nuclear fuel creates vexing issues from a nuclear criticality and radioactive containment standpoint. A fluid that can turn into a solid in various locations is really unhelpful from the standpoint of keeping a power plant running.
    The fundamental reason for the technology is to turn Uranium 238 into plutonium that is fissioned in a reactor. While perhaps elegant from a nuclear physics standpoint, the economics are stunningly poor because of the massive cost of all the required processing equipment.

  4. “Molten salt and thorium reactors are inherently safer”
    How is that possible?
    All the power reactor designs other than the RBMK have zero deaths from their operation.

    Isn’t it time we stopped talking about the safety of nuclear reactors?

    At most with a new design it might be cheaper to keep the death rate zero.

  5. Interesting that the chinese liquid fuel MSR is close in concept to FLiBe energy. Kirk Sorenson getting some market validation?

  6. Some things got garbled by World Nuclear News:

    Conversion ratio would likely be 1.1 not 0.1. LWR conversion ratio is probably about 0.7.

    20% fission in thorium – thorium only fissions with fast neutrons. Having FlLiBe carrier, it would be a thermal reactor, so fast fission will likely be on the order of 7% (as it is in other thermal reactors) and proportionally attributed according to proportions of the actinides (232, 233, 235, 238).

    Good for them. Welcome to 1964.

    • Well, the point isn’t to fission Thorium, especially because in general, even atomic weight nuclides don’t fission. The point of Thorium is to absorb thermal neutrons and generate ²³³U which will itself fission. That would take them to 1973, at least.

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