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China's Leap Forward

China has invested billions in developing reactor prototypes.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2014
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China is currently the world leader in investment in and development of new nuclear power facilities. Not only are 28 conventional nuclear reactors under construction, but China is also actively developing Generation IV nuclear concepts. By 2015, China will have 36 Gwe installed nuclear capacity, about 2% of its electricity power supply, with a projected 70 Gwe by 2020. The Chinese National Nuclear Corporation expects to invest $120 billion by 2020 in new reactors.

China's motivation is profound. Coal supplies over 70% of China's energy, which makes it the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and the target for those concerned about climate change. Coal's dominance leads to very poor air quality, but China has limited options for replacing its coal-fired capacity, as its natural gas resources are insufficient, while gas imports (from Turkmenistan and Russia) are expensive and potentially unreliable.

China thus appears nearly ready to commence operation of prototypes of four GEN IV nuclear concepts with an investment of billions.

In 2010 a 65-Mwth gas-cooled fast reactor, the CEFR (Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor) went critical, testing a fast reactor concept that the Chinese believe could be the best technology for the future. The CEFR was designed in 2003 and built near Beijing by Russia's OKBM Afrikantov in collaboration with OKB Gidropress, NIKIET and Kurchatov Institute. It achieved first criticality in July 2010, can generate 20 MWe and was grid connected in July 2011 at 40% of power, with ramp up to 20 MWe in December, 2011.

More recently, China's Huaneng Group (with assistance from Tsinghua University) is funding two high-temperature gas reactors (HTGR), using ceramic-coated pebble bed fuel, with 105 Mwe power each. Costing $476 million, these units are will be constructed at Rongcheng in Shandang Province, and are expected to be operational in 2014.

Also, the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics is developing two molten salt small prototypes of 2 Mwe size, at a budget of $375 million. The prototypes will demonstrate pebble bed fuel in molten salt as well as fuel dissolved in molten salt. Jiang Mianheng, the son of a former Premier, is leading the project. The team is focused on developing thorium as a fuel, since China has vast thorium resources. A staff of about 550 is anticipated by 2015, and prototype testing is expected to occur in the 2016-2017 time period.

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