Japan Developing Its Own Thorium Reactor
October 7, 2010 • 10:05AM

At a news conference in Tokyo on Oct.5, Keidanren, the Japanese industry group with big name members such as Toyota, Toshiba and Hitachi, revealed that International Thorium Energy Molten-Salt Technology Inc. (IThEMS) plans to build the world's first commercial Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor (Th-MSR). It uses thorium fluoride which is dissolved in molten salt of lithium and beryllium fluoride (Flibe). Th-MSR uses liquid fuel. As a result, the fuel not only does not produce plutonium, it acts as an incinerator burning up fuel and produces only a little high-level and low-level nuclear wastes.

However, the principal reason why Japan is leaning towards developing Th-MSR is because these reactors will be under normal pressure in a normal pressured container, unlike the high-pressure in a closed container for the current solid fuel class of reactors. Japan is situated in a high-risk earthquake zone and pressurized reactors were accepted reluctantly. In case of the Th-MSR, even if the thorium molten-salt were to be released from the container, it would glassify quickly posing no danger to anyone.

Since the 1990s, long before the Indian nuclear program was opened up to the world, Japanese nuclear scientists were visiting India's institutions where the thorium fuel research work was being conducted. As of now, IThEMS, with a start-up of US$300 million, is planning to develop a micro-mini reactor rated at 10MW. The long-term plan is to seek funding for developing a larger 200MW Th-MSR