China is investing heavily in Molten-salt reactor development. The People's Republic of China has initiated a research and development project in thorium molten-salt reactor technology. It was formally announced at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) annual conference in January 2011. Its ultimate target is to investigate and develop a thorium based molten salt nuclear system in about 20 years. An expected intermediate outcome of the TMSR research program is to build a 2 MW pebble bed fluoride salt cooled research reactor in 2015, and a 2 MW molten salt fueled research reactor in 2017. This would be followed by a 10 MW demonstrator reactor and a 100 MW pilot reactors. The project is spearheaded, with a start-up budget of $350 million, and has already recruited 140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium molten salt reactor research at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics. An expansion to 750 staff is planned by 2015.<quoted text>
The 3rd and 4th generation reactors you are talking about are known as fast reactors because they use fast neutrons versus the slow (thermalized) neutrons used in todays Light Water Reactors (LWR). The primary advantage as you stated was the reactor could essentially burn up all the long lived and transuranic waste by a process called transmutation. This would result in spent fuel that would be radioactive for only about 300-500 years versus what we have today because of not reprocessing current LWR fuels for reuse. The disadvantage is the fuel needs to be highly enriched (> 90% U-235))which is not allowed by todays laws the only reactors with highly enriched fuel are used for navy nuclear propulsion reactors. Todays commercial LWRs use <10 enrichment. There are no fast reactors that have current approval by the NRC to my knowledge and unless the enrichment issue gets answered I don't think there will be. I personally support the use of Thorium reactors such as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). If you are interested look it up it has been proven to work and is inherently safe which is quite different from mechanical safety systems required for gen 1 and 2 reactors and even better than the passive design safety systems for the gen 3+ and 4 reactors.
Buy contrast the TerraPower Gen 3&4 reactor makes more plutonium from the uranium 238 for use as fuel, and so would run almost entirely on uranium 238. It would need only a small amount of uranium 235, which would function like lighter fluid getting a charcoal barbecue started. The TerraPower reactor makes more plutonium from the uranium 238 for use as fuel, and so would run almost entirely on uranium 238. It would need only a small amount of uranium 235, which would function like lighter fluid getting a charcoal barbecue started.
There are pro and cons to each side of the story, as one might expect. I think the real point here is that we as a society must stop burning FF.
I for one applaud any attempt to further development in nuclear energy, or as far as that goes, any energy source that does not require the use of FF as a source.