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China eyes its Gobi desert for uranium alternative thorium

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Beijing [China], September 26 (ANI): China may soon test a new inexpensive nuclear energy that will not need water to cool nuclear fuel rods nor uranium on the edge of its Gobi Desert at a place called Wuwei, a media report said.

The experimental nuclear reactor uses thorium as a fuel and experts believe that China will be the first country to have a chance to commercialise the technology, according to Asia Times.

Thorium — a weakly radioactive, silvery metal that occurs naturally in rocks — is currently rarely used industrially. It is a by-product of the growing rare earth mining industry in China and is, therefore, an attractive alternative to imported uranium. Lyndon Edwards, a nuclear engineer with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization in Sydney, said: “Thorium is much more abundant than uranium, so using it would be a very useful technology for the next 50 or 100 years when uranium reserves run out,” reported Asia Times.

The experimental nuclear reactor has molten salts circulating inside it instead of water which makes it unusual. Claims have also been made that the reactor has the potential to produce safe and cheap nuclear energy. And it will generate a much smaller amount of radioactive waste in comparison to conventional reactors.

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The Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP) operates the reactor. It is designed to generate just two megawatts of thermal energy — enough to supply up to 1,000 households, Asia Times said.

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If all goes well with the experiment then China aspires to build a reactor with a capacity of 373 megawatts by 2030. Gansu’s provincial government has maintained that a trial run is slated for later this month, said Asia Times. (ANI)

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