China’s nuclear energy program

Business Week has a review of China’s nuclear construction program.

China has 29 nuclear reactors under construction (40% of the world total).

Construction on the Pebble Bed reactor began in December. The design came from Beijing’s Tsinghua University. If successful, it would be the first full-size prototype of this technology. If unsuccessful, it would be a costly, dangerous mess to clean up. Germany’s pebble-bed prototype, which was never operational, cost €5.5 billion ($7.3 billion) to decontaminate.

In theory, a pebble-bed model operates much more efficiently than other designs. “The problem has been that although graphite is slippery when it’s cool, at high temperatures and when it’s heavily radiated it gets more sticky,” causing the graphite pebbles to get lodged in one place, explains Steve Thomas, professor of energy studies at London’s University of Greenwich. “When the pebbles stick, they overheat and start to disintegrate, leaving a dust of fuel products and radioactive graphite.”

The Chinese are also testing the radioactive chemical thorium, said to be safer than uranium, as a nuclear fuel. That program was launched in 2011 in Shanghai by former President Jiang Zemin’s son, Jiang Mianheng.

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