[Homestead] Chinese meltdown-proof pebble-fueled nuclear reactor

tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Tue Feb 8 08:16:36 EST 2005

Chinese meltdown-proof pebble nuclear reactor--gets rid of the water 
cooling and lash-up of plumbing and expensive, short-lived pumps and valves.

China is poised to develop the world's first commercially

operated “pebble bed” nuclear reactor after a Chinese

energy consortium chose a site in the eastern province of

Shandong to build a 195MW gas-cooled power plant.

An official representing the consortium, led by Huaneng,

one of China's biggest power producers, said the proposed

reactor could start producing electricity within five


If successfully commercialised, the pebble bed reactor

would be the first radically new reactor design for

several decades. It would push China to the forefront of

development of a technology that researchers claim offers

a new “meltdown-proof” alternative to standard water-

cooled nuclear power stations.
High-temperature gas-cooled reactors have for decades

offered the theoretical promise of cheap, safe and easily

scalable nuclear power and China’s bold try at making them

work will be closely watched.
 >Click here

China and South Africa have led efforts to develop “pebble

bed” reactors, so called because they are fuelled by small

graphite spheres the size of billiard balls, with uranium

cores. The reactor's proponents say its small core and the

dispersal of its fuel among hundreds of thousands of

spheres prevents a meltdown.

Advocates of “modular” pebble bed reactors argue they

offer the hope of cheap, safe and easily expandable

nuclear power stations a potent appeal for China, which is

struggling to meet huge growth in energy demand while

avoiding environmental disaster.

Pebble bed reactors are small, which suits remote and

rural areas and makes them easy to expand.

The reactor's supporters also argue that the technology is

secure from proliferation. The low-enriched uranium fuel

consists of half-millimetre-sized particles of uranium

dioxide encased in graphite and silicon carbide, which in

turn is encased in a graphite ball. Experts say it is

expensive and difficult to process such spent fuel. Plans

for a rival pilot plant near Cape Town, developed by

Eskom, the South African power utility, US-based Exelon

and British Nuclear Fuels, have been stalled by

environmental challenges.

The Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at

Beijing's Tsinghua University, which has links with the

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, operates the

world's only test pebble bed reactor outside Beijing and

is providing the technology for the planned power station.

The Chinese consortium, which includes Huaneng, Tsinghua

and China Nuclear Engineering and Construction (CNEC), has

identified the city of Weihai on Shandong's northeastern

coast as their preferred site for the plant and is

preparing to apply for government approval.

Huaneng, one of China's biggest electricity generators,

plans to take a 50 per cent stake in the joint venture

that will build the plant. CNEC would own 35 per cent and

Tsinghua 5 per cent. The remaining 10 per cent may be

offered to other investors.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki had said his country

was seeking co-operation with China for the development of

the nuclear technology. The Eskom-led joint venture was

hoping to build its test commercial pebble bed reactor

within 10 years.


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