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