China brings world's first Generation IV nuclear reactor online

China brings world's first Generation IV nuclear reactor online
The Shidao Bay nuclear power station
The Shidao Bay nuclear power station
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The Shidao Bay nuclear power station
The Shidao Bay nuclear power station
Diagram of HTR-PM
Diagram of HTR-PM

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
Diagram of HTR-PM

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 MWth 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

Thankfully the US invented tons of variations of Gen IV nuclear and has yet to complete one. While China builds one to supply power for their long term project the fossil fuel sector..
Given that China continues to build vast numbers of coal fired power plants, the, ‘to replace coal power’ is a nice line :/
China may be installing lots more coal-power but it has also been leading the world on renewables and I can see why they still want more coal-powered generation; to act as a back-stop to their massive renewables investments. The country is so huge that relying on renewables at this stage is difficult due to the cost of interconnecting renewable supplies with where the energy is needed. The same is true for storage. Coal makes a very useful, comparatively cheap and relatively responsive gap-filler for when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shinning. Just because you have a coal-powered station available does not mean it is running at full pelt 24/7. Not ideal but a huge advance on where much of the rest of the planet is at, including the USA... "China accounted for nearly half of the world's low-carbon spending in 2022" ...
So the much criticised Adavanced Gas Cooled Reactor concept wasn’t so bad after all, just before its time perhaps.
Citing renewables spending in China merely distracts from its dominance in greenhouse gas emissions, mainly due to coal. China also has no intention of curbing its increase in coal use before 2050, which is far later than other countries.
This is not the fist time a commercial scale pebble bed reactor has been brought online. Germany operated one for just six months in the eighties.

Cost-overruns, NIMBY protests and Chernobyl killed it.
What do you mean by 'module' here? Is it just one pebble-bed reactor or two?
Apparently it takes a dictatorship to move forward with the most logical short- to medium-term solution to global warming and air pollution. Congratulations to the Chinese authoritarian regime.
As an American this is embarrassing. We should be the ones leading the world in this technology.
PB reactors were developed decades ago. As I recall, there were issues with leaks in the helium based cooling system and complaints by anti-nuke activists that the introduction of oxygen into the reactor might allow the carbon in any damaged nodules to combust. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in normal use.
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