China’s Nuclear Engineering Construction Corporation plans to start up a high-temperature, gas-cooled pebble-bed nuclear plant in 2017 in Shandong province, south of Beijing. The twin 105-megawatt reactors—so-called Generation IV reactors that would be immune to meltdown—would be the first of their type built at commercial scale in the world.
Construction of the plant is nearly complete, and the next 18 months will be spent installing the reactor components, running tests, and loading the fuel before the reactors go critical in November 2017.
If it’s successful, Shandong plant would generate a total of 210 megawatts and will be followed by a 600-megawatt facility in Jiangxi province. Beyond that, China plans to sell these reactors internationally; in January, Chinese president Xi Jinping signed an agreement with King Salman bin Abdulaziz to construct a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor in Saudi Arabia.
“This technology is going to be on the world market within the next five years,” Zhang predicts. “We are developing these reactors to belong to the world.”
Pebble-bed reactors that use helium gas as the heat transfer medium and run at very high temperatures—up to 950 °C—have been in development for decades. The Chinese reactor is based on a design originally developed in Germany, and the German company SGL Group is supplying the billiard-ball-size graphite spheres that encase thousands of tiny “pebbles” of uranium fuel. Seven high-temperature gas-cooled reactors have been built, but only two units remain in operation, both relatively small: an experimental 10-megawatt pebble-bed reactor at the Tsinghua Institute campus, which reached full power in 2003, and a similar reactor in Japan.
One of the main hurdles to building these reactors is the cost of the fuel and of the reactor components. But China’s sheer size could help overcome that barrier. “There have been studies that indicate that if reactors are mass-produced, they can drive down costs,” says Charles Forsberg, executive director of the MIT Nuclear Fuel Cycle Project. “The Chinese market is large enough to make that potentially possible.”
China is also working on
- a molten-salt reactor fueled by thorium rather than uranium (a collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory)
- a traveling-wave reactor (in collaboration with TerraPower, the startup funded by Bill Gates)
- a sodium-cooled fast reactor being built by the Chinese Institute for Atomic Energy
- a supercritical water cooled reactor
Nextbigfuture has been covering all of Chinas nuclear reactor projects for many years.
China is planning factory mass production and further technology refinement for later high temperature reactor versions.
Future of HTR Development
* Duplication, mass production
Next project steps:
* Super critical steam turbine, co-generation
R and D on future technologies:
* Higher temperature,
* Hydrogen Production,
* Process heat application,
* Gas turbine
Technology of 5g U/fuel to 7g U/fuel has been demonstrated.
* INET demo production facility has been finished,
* Manufacturing of irradiated fuels, finished.
* Fuel irradiation tests are underway.
* Engineering and licensing of a new pebble bed fuel plant is finished, construction soon starts.
There have been detailed cost estimates made of the chinese pebble bed reactor compared to the low costs (half or less of the western cost) for pressurized water reactors (PWR – current standard reactors).
Estimates show that the capital costs of an Nth-of-akind HTR-PM plant with multiple NSSS modules should be in the range of 90–120% of the costs of a PWR. Further reductions are expected to be possible.
China is pretty sure that they can get the HTR-PM in the range of the price of their PWR and they will produce heat (higher temperature than PWR) that allows the HTR-PM to be a drop in replacement for coal plants. The HTR-PM would also be able to compete for smaller projects in the 210 to 420 MWe range.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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