NUCLEAR OPTIONS: WHAT EXPLAINS U.S.-CHINA COOPERATION ON THORIUM?Georgetown Public Policy Review MATTHEW STRABONE NOVEMBER 6, 2014
“…………This level of collaboration is particularly surprising given the commodity involved and the nature of the enterprise. Although the protocol governing the agreement has provisions for sharing important breakthroughs with the international scientific community and prohibiting military or weapons-related research, information used for commercial purposes is excluded from any required sharing and is free of any restrictive conditions. And, frankly, it is highly doubtful that any mechanism for enforcing the prohibition on military research is realistic. Thus, China will have the opportunity to achieve a commercially dominant position in thorium development and investigate thorium’s potential to upgrade its military capabilitieswithout the U.S. deriving a benefit from either, leading some commentators to wonder exactly what is in it for Washington.
While this agreement seems like a no-strings-attached gift to Beijing, what are the U.S.’s motives for participating in this venture? What might it expect to gain? There are possible answers, but they require some assumptions. First, we must suppose that American decision-makers have determined that thorium is not, as some have argued, a quick and easy path to American energy independence, and that it would not be cost-effective, at least in the short term, for American nuclear efforts to transition to thorium research. Given federal budget limitations, then, the benefits of using federal dollars to pursue thorium as an energy source appear to be limited at this time……….
Although the U.S. might have been expected to share its thorium research with privately-owned American corporations and perhaps allied states rather than with a strategic competitor (and maybe it has), the significant scientific and engineering obstacles and the resulting high cost of developing thorium-powered reactors may require the sort of long-term commitment and resources that only another world power, like China, can provide. Since the U.S. is believed to possess one of the world’s largest deposits of thorium, it may want China to assume the short-term risk and attendant expenditure of resources with the intention of cashing in on its large reserves when (or if) China’s research turns thorium into a commercially viable energy resource.”…..