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China to trial two new nuclear generation technologies

11 January 2013

Construction has begun on a Chinese high-temperature gas cooled reactor known as HTR-PM, Xinhua news agency reported January 6. The 3 billion-yuan ($476 million) 200MW nuclear project is being built at Shidao Bay in the coastal city of Rongcheng in Shandong Province.

The first HTR-PM high-temperature gas cooled reactor is being built at Shidao Bay in Eastern China
The first HTR-PM high-temperature gas cooled reactor is being built at Shidao Bay in Eastern China

It is being built and will be operated by the Huaneng Shandong Shidao Bay Nuclear Power Co. (HSNPC), and should start generating power by the end of 2017. The high-temperature pebble-bed technology was independently developed by China's Tsinghua University.

Originally scheduled to be launched in 2011, the construction of the project was put on hold after the Fukushima accident of March 2011. The Shidao Bay project has now undergone thorough site checks in accident prevention and emergency management, and has passed government safety inspections, according to a statement from HSNPC.

China is also developing a new generation of thorium reactors that produce far less toxic waste than conventional uranium reactors and cannot melt down.

Jiang Mianheng, the son of former leader Jiang Zemin, is leading a thorium project for China's National Academy of Sciences with a start-up budget of $350m.

According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, he has already recruited 140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium power at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. He will have 750 staff by 2015.

The Shanghai team plans to build a pilot 2MW plant using liquid fluoride fuel by the end of the decade, before scaling up to a commercially viable size in the 2020s.

China has enough thorium to power its electricity needs for 20,000 years, according to Jiang, and the technology is inherently safe in that there is no chain reaction involved - fission dies the moment the photon beam is switched off. Also, the thorium molten salt process takes place at atmospheric pressures.

Another advantage is that most of the mineral is used up in the fission process, while uranium reactors use up just 0.7%. It can even burn up existing stockpiles of plutonium and uranium.

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