China nuclear energy and coal company partner to make traveling wave nuclear reactor

The China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) has signed an agreement with the Shenhua Group, China’s biggest coal producer, to promote the development of advanced “traveling wave” reactor technology, the state nuclear giant said.

At a ceremony on Tuesday, the two sides signed an investment agreement to promote fourth-generation traveling wave reactors (TWR), CNNC said in a notice posted on its website. The deal also involved the Zhejiang Energy Group and the Hebei Construction and Investment Group.

The new organization will be a partnership with four Chinese energy companies and will have /A> starting capital of CNY1bn ($153.2 million).

TWR, one of several new “fourth-generation” reactor designs, uses depleted uranium and is more fuel-efficient and cheaper to run than conventional nuclear reactors.

Leading developers of TWR include the Bill Gates-backed Terrapower, which is working on large scale projects aimed at providing base-load electricity. CNNC said its chairman, Wang Shoujun, met with Gates in July to discuss cooperation.

TerraPower’s traveling wave design is a breeder reactor that produce more atomic fuel than they consume, reducing the need to add costly processed nuclear elements.

In 2006, Intellectual Ventures launched a spin-off named TerraPower to model and commercialize a working design of such a reactor, which later came to be called a “traveling-wave reactor”. TerraPower has developed TWR designs for low- to medium- (300 MWe) as well as high-power (~1000 MWe) generation facilities. Bill Gates featured TerraPower in his 2010 TED talk.

In 2010 a group from TerraPower applied for patent EP 2324480 A1 following WO2010019199A1 “Heat pipe nuclear fission deflagration wave reactor cooling”. The application was deemed withdrawn in 2014.

In September, 2015 TerraPower and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop a TWR. TerraPower plans to build a 600 MWe demonstration Plant, the TWR-P, by 2018–2022 followed by larger commercial plants of 1150 MWe in the late 2020s

CNNC said the technology uses 30 percent to 40 percent of the isotopes in natural uranium, compared with just 0.7 percent in conventional models, and reactors could run for decades without requiring additional fuel.

CNNC and its rival China General Nuclear are both developing small modular reactors that can be deployed in remote regions as well as mobile ship-mounted units that can be used to supply power to offshore drilling platforms or small islands.

Shenhua, which is in the middle of a merger with state power giant Guodian, is seeking to diversify away from coal and coal-fired power, and it has already been in talks with CNNC and CGN to invest in nuclear projects.

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