China Fast Nuclear Reactor Progressing Towards Commercial Operation

China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) successfully completed a 100 percent power manual emergency shutdown test of the China Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) on July 31.

CEFR is a 65 MW thermal, 20 MW electric, sodium-cooled, pool-type reactor with a 30-year design lifetime and a target burnup of 100 MWd/kg.

China started building a 600 megawatt fast reactor based upon the CEFR technology. The construction of the 600 MWe Xiapu fast reactor pilot project started in late 2017. The reactor will have an output of 1500 MWth thermal power and 600 MW electric power. There are also plans for a second 600 MW fast reactor and a 600 MW HTR-PM600 and four 1000 MW CAP1000 are proposed at the Fujian site.

The CFR600 demonstration fast reactor (CDFR) is the next step in China Institute of Atomic Energy’s (CIAE’s) programme operation envisaged from about 2023. This will be 1500 MWt, 600 MWe, with 41% thermal efficiency, using MOX fuel with 100 GWd/t burn-up, and with two sodium coolant loops producing steam at 480°C. Later fuel will be metal with burn-up 100-120 GWd/t. Most pressure water reactors have fuel burn-up (an efficiency measure) at 50-70 GWd/t while older versions were at 45 GWd/t.

GWd/t means gigawatt days per ton. A one gigawatt fast reactor would need 3.65 tons of uranium per year at 100 GWd/t while an older regular gigawatt reactor needing 7.3 tons of uranium per year with 50 GWd/t efficiency.

Breeding ratio is about 1.1, design operational lifetime 40 years. It is to have active and passive shutdown systems and passive decay heat removal.

China was going to build two 800 MWe Russian fast neutron reactors, but that project was suspended.

China plans a commercial CFR1000 1000-1200 MWe fast reactor that might be completed in mid-2030. It would use metal U-Pu-Zr fuel and have 120-150 GWd/t burn-up.

CIAE projections show fast reactors increasing from 2020 to at least 200 GWe by 2050, and 1400 GWe by 2100.

The development itself is a 5. It is just steady progress to technology that would be double and potential three times as efficient with nuclear fuel. It is like going from 20 miles per gallon to 40 miles per gallon and eventually 60 mpg and maybe more. If China makes the transition that they are talking about then by around 2040 they can use these reactors to close the fuel cycle.

Closing the fuel cycle means there would be virtually no nuclear waste or unburned fuel. The plan would involve regular reactors, fast reactors and offsite reprocessing (recycling of fuel) facilities. Fast reactors means the designs generates neutrons that are a hundred to a thousand times faster to split the even numbered isotopes of uranium. Unburned nuclear fuel is mainly Uranium 238 by mass. If you hit Uranium 238 with a fast neutron it briefly becomes Plutonium 239 before splitting.

The impact is there if China follows through makes hundreds of reactors based on this technology. They could leverage this to phase out coal power significantly starting around 2040.

CEFR 20 MWe Tests

The CEFR completed necessary tests and preparations before commissioning and extended commercial operations.

Fast breeder reactors have good breeding and transmutation characteristics. The advanced fuel cycle system in the CEFR can increase the utilization rate of uranium resources up to 70 percent versus conventional nuclear reactors.

China’s fast reactor development is going through three stages
* experimental fast reactor
* a demonstration fast reactor
* then a commercial fast reactor.

The 65 megawatt CEFR achieved criticality for the first time in 2010 and achieved its design goal of 72 hours at full power in 2014.

After the completion of its first overhaul and related debugging tests and other work last year, 1,320 hours of low-power operations test research was carried out.

Written by Brian Wang,