Russian designs built with help from France could be in commercial use by 2025

Over at Next Big Future blogger Brian Wang has a compelling graphic on the technology for China's fast reactors. It is a good springboard to a review of recent developments. China is already the world's most ambitious developer of commercial nuclear power stations for production of electricity to be used by commercial and residential markets. It plans to boost its capabilities over the next several decades from 9 GWe to 70 GWE or an eight-fold increase.

At the present time, and according to official announcements from Chinese state media and utilities, all of these new reactors are planned to be light water designs similar to the Westinghouse AP1000. However, a review of recent reports in western mainstream and nuclear industry trade news media indicate China is making serious investments in fast reactors.

A definition of a "fast reactor" provided by the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) explains to readers that they don't use water to "moderate" the flow of neutrons to maintain a steady chain reaction.

"In a fast reactor, however, enough plutonium can be produced and fissioned to more than make up for the uranium-235 used. In addition, many of the long-lived actinides that cannot be fissioned in a thermal reactor can be burned in a fast reactor, so the fast reactor is capable of destroying the major source of long-lived radiotoxicity in spent fuel. Thus, the fast reactor can create new fuel and destroy long-lived nuclear waste and plutonium while it produces electricity."

In the U.S. work on the Integral Fast Reactor at Argonne National Laboratory's Idaho location was canceled during the Clinton Administration. Several commercial efforts to develop sodium-cooled fast reactors are now underway in the U.S. They include GE-Hitachi's PRISM reactor and a small reactor design from Advanced Reactor Concepts which includes some of the senior technical team members from the ANL-West project.

Roundup of recent developments in China's fast reactor program


*** The Denki Shimbun, a English language Japanese news service, reported July 13 that China plans to drive the development of its fast reactor program to produce new units in the power range of 1,000-1,500 MW by 2020. China is currently scrambling to secure supplies of uranium on world markets. While supplies are robust now, in another decade, the price may increase due to demand from other new reactors coming online in Asia and the West. The news service said China's leadership realizes that it has no domestic uranium mines which is an impetus to develop the fast reactors.

*** World Nuclear News (WNN) reported July 22 that China has achieved criticality at its first fast neutron reactor. According to WNN the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) will reach a thermal capacity of 60 MW and produce 20 MW of electric power. Developed by the China Institute of Atomic Energy, (CIEA), it is the first sodium-cooled fast reactor in China. The reactor was reportedly built by several Russian entities including OKBM Afrikantov, OKB Gidropress, NIKIET, and the Kurchatov Institute.

WNN also reported that China has set aside plans for a 600 MW indigenous design in favor of buying two BN-800 reactors from Russia. The project is said to plan to break ground at a coastal site in August 2011. A bilateral program on fuel cycles for fast reactors is planned as a parallel effort.

On April 30 WNN reported that a joint venture company had been officially established for construction of the commercial version of the fast reactor to be located near Sanming City in Fujian province. The members of the joint venture include China National Nuclear Corp., which owns the majority stake in the project, Fujian Investment & Development Corp., and the municipal government of Sanming City.

*** Bloomberg Wire service reported May 18 that Liu Jing, Deputy Director of China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) said in an interview China is in talks with Russia and France to build the fast reactor. Electricite de France is reported to have signed an agreement for nuclear cooperation with CNNC and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group.

In an update May 19 Bloomberg wire service reported that Zu Mi, Chief Engineer at CIEA said in an interview the fast reactors are being developed because of "their noticeable advantage" in the use of uranium.

However, Bloomberg also cited a statement from Martin Wang, an energy analyst at Guotai Junan, based on Hong Kong, who said it will take China "some time" to develop its fast reactors for commercial use.

That view was countered by one from Steve Kidd, head of strategy at the World Nuclear Association, who told Bloomberg the technology could be in commercial use by 2025.

"If China is doing 10 PWRs a year, there is a big economic inventive to so something better. The technology could come earlier than people think."

* * * The Chinese Xinhua news service reported July 21 that Zhang Donghui, the director of CEFR project, said in an interview the project is relying on pyroprocessing to separate actinides from recyclable elements of irradiated fuel from light water reactors. The process is well understood in the U.S.
Overall, China is placing multiple bets on nuclear energy placing it far ahead of its counterparts in the U.S. and UK.

Prior coverage on this blog
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