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China brings world’s first Generation IV nuclear reactor online

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China brings world's first Generation IV nuclear reactor online

China claims to have brought the world’s first Generation IV commercial nuclear reactor online. The Shidao Bay Nuclear Power Plant HTR-PM high-temperature gas-cooled (HTGR) pebble-bed reactor in Shidao Bay, Shandong Province, reportedly went into service this month.

Generation IV reactors are the latest, long-anticipated nuclear power plants that promise to be cheaper, safer, and more efficient than the current reactors. They’re called Generation IV because Generation I were the first experimental reactors, Generation II were the first commercial reactors, Generation III were improved versions of Gen II, and Generation IV are the future reactors that incorporate new technologies, fuels, and basic designs.

Though China’s HTR-PM opened for commercial business on December 6, 2023, these Gen IV reactors have been under development for decades, with some technologies dating back to the 1950s. This long lead time from idea to commercial service is due to many factors, not the least of which is integrating the many new technologies in one package along with the experience of almost 80 years of reactor operation.

Diagram of HTR-PM

Tsinghua University

HTR-PM is one of three reactors at Shidao Bay, with the other two consisting of CAP1400 reactors that are Gen IIIs based on a Westinghouse design. HTR-PM itself is made up of two pebble-bed reactors connected to a 210-MWe steam turbine and a helium blower for cooling. Each module is a pressure vessel with a mechanism at the top for inserting the fuel pebbles and two more at the bottom for removing spent or damaged pebbles. The pebbles are made of uranium and carbon encased in a ceramic shell.

When running, HTR-PM generates 2 x 250 MEth and the steam outlet reaches a temperature of 500 °C (930 °F). Because it’s a Gen IV design, it incorporates a number of safety innovations, including passive cooling, fuel that can withstand estimated temperatures, fission reaction self-regulation, and the ability to withstand an emergency without the need for outside help. Because of its helium cooling, it does not need to be sited near coasts, rivers, or large bodies of water.

Constructed by Tsinghua University, China Huaneng Group, and the China National Nuclear Company, HTR-PM is intended to supply steam and electricity for the petrochemical industry and to act as the model for future reactors to replace coal-fired power plants in the Chinese interior in the coming decades.

Details of the reactor project were published in Engineering.

Source: Tsinghua University

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