China will start construction of a 600 MWe fourth generation nuclear reactor and it could be Terrapower traveling wave reactor

Construction of the Xipu fast neutron reactor nuclear power demonstrative project in east China’s Fujian province is designed to start at the end of 2017, China Business News quoted Xu Mi, an academician with Chinese Academy of Engineering, as saying.

The demonstrative nuclear power project, designed with 600,000kw (600 MWe) installed capacity, will be a fourth generation reactor designs.

The Shanghai newspaper speculated that this newest facility, because of its planned full scale size, will be the long anticipated joint commercial venture between China National Nuclear Corp. and TerraPower, a firm based on Bellevue, WA. Gates has been instrumental in funding the development of a type of fast reactor called a “traveling wave reactor” through TerraPower, a company he founded in 2008 and chairs. Gates has visited China at least three times in recent years for possible cooperation on nuclear power.

On his last trip to Beijing, which took place last February of this year, Gates met with Nur Bekri, a vice chair of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, and with China National Nuclear Corp chairman Sun Qin. China National Nuclear Corp is one of the country’s largest nuclear power company and a major Chinese partner of TerraPower. The two firms first announced an intent to cooperate on fast reactor designs in 2012.

The Chinese newspaper did not cite a confirmation statement from Terrapower about the Fujian pilot project.

Fast neutron reactors

China’s research and development on fast neutron reactors started in 1964.

A 65 MWt sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor – the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) – at the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) near Beijing, started up in July 2010.1 It was built by Russia’s OKBM Afrikantov in collaboration with OKB Gidropress, NIKIET and Kurchatov Institute. It was grid connected at 40% power (8 MWe net) in July 2011, and ramped up to full 20 MWe power in December, then passed ‘official’ checks in October 2012. It has negative temperature, power reactivity and sodium void coefficients. Its fuel cycle is designed to use electrometallurgical reprocessing. It is reported to have high-enriched (65%) UO2 fuel.

The CDFR-1000, a 1000 MWe Chinese prototype fast reactor based on the CEFR, was envisaged with construction start in 2017 and commissioning 2023 as the next step in CIAE’s program. This would be a three-loop 2500 MWt pool-type, use MOX fuel with average 66 GWd/t burn-up, run at 544°C, have breeding ratio 1.2, with 316 core fuel assemblies and 255 blanket ones, and a 40-year life. This is CIAE’s ‘project one’ Chinese Demonstration Fast Reactor (CDFR). It is to have active and passive shutdown systems and passive decay heat removal. The reactor would use MOX fuel with average 66 GWd/t burn-up, run at 544°C, have breeding ratio 1.2, with 316 core fuel assemblies and 255 blanket ones. This could form the basis of the Chinese Commercial Fast Reactor (CCFR) by 2030, using MOX + actinide or metal + actinide fuel. MOX is seen only as an interim fuel, the target arrangement is metal fuel in closed cycle.

However, in October 2009, an agreement was signed by CIAE and China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) with Russia’s Atomstroyexport to start pre-project and design works for a commercial nuclear power plant with two BN-800 reactorsc (see section on Sanming in the information page on Nuclear Power in China). These reactors are referred to by CIAE as ‘project 2’ Chinese Demonstration Fast Reactors (CDFRs), with construction originally to start in 2013 and commissioning 2018-19. In contrast to the intention in Russia, these would use ceramic MOX fuel pellets. The project was expected to lead to bilateral cooperation of fuel cycles for fast reactors. However, according to the Beloyarsk plant Director late in 2014, “The main objective of the BN-800 is [to provide] operating experience and technological solutions that will be applied to the BN-1200,” and no further Russian BN-800 units are planned. The project is reported to have been suspended indefinitely, though this is unconfirmed.

The CIAE’s CDFR-1000 is expected to be followed by a 1200 MWe China Demonstration Fast Breeder Reactor (CDFBR) by about 2028, conforming to Generation IV criteria. This will have U-Pu-Zr fuel with 120 GWd/t burn-up and breeding ratio of 1.5 or more, with minor actinide and long-lived fission product recycle.

PWR capacity in China is expected to level off at 200 GWe about 2040, and fast reactors progressively increase from 2020 to at least 200 GWe by 2050 and 1400 GWe by 2100.

CGN and Xiamen University are reported to be cooperating on R and D for the travelling-wave reactor (TWR). The Ministry of Science and Technology, with CNNC and SNPTC, are skeptical of it. (This is a fast reactor design using natural or depleted uranium packed inside hundreds of hexagonal pillars. In a ‘wave’ that moves through the core at only one centimetre per year, the U-238 is bred progressively into Pu-239, which is the actual fuel. However, this design has now radically changed to become a standing wave reactor with the fuel shuffled in the core.) In January 2013 a prototype TWR-P was being discussed as a TerraPower-SNERDI joint project, and in December 2013 a US Federal Register notice said that the USA had negotiated an agreement with China “that would facilitate the joint development of TWR technology”, including standing wave versions of it.


IAEA review of fast reactors in 2015

In Russia, the BN-600 sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) has shown an impressive operational performance by reaching an 86% load factor last year, while the Russian light water reactor (LWR) fleet reaches 82% on average. The multipurpose sodium-cooled fast neutron research reactor (MBIR), to be built in Dimitrovgrad, obtained the construction license from the Russian government. The BN-800 SFR will be commissioned at the beginning of 2016.

In India, commissioning of the prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam is expected to start by the end of September 2015. The China experimental fast reactor (CEFR), which was connected to the grid in 2011, reached 100% power in December 2014. In France, the conceptual design phase for the advanced sodium technological reactor for industrial demonstration (ASTRID) is planned to be completed by the end of 2015. In addition, other participating countries reported promising and progressing activities in FR development.

IAEA 2013 update of innovative nuclear reactors