China plans to build 25 nuclear plants in the next five years

Paul Boughton

The eyes of the world are on Chinaas the country begins development of the very first commercial modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactor.

This significant new project is being undertaken by the Chinese governmentwhich has assigned the task of building the reactor to Chinergya joint venture of Tsinghua Holding Co Ltd and the state-owned China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corporation.

Chinergy has begun the process by selecting Intergraph’s SmartPlant 3D and SmartPlant Enterprise software as the core technology for project design and implementation requirements.

“After an extensive evaluation of all traditional plant engineeringdesign and information and materials management applicationswe felt the SmartPlant Enterprise suite of solutions would provide an openmodern platform for new systems and the next generation of plant engineering and design” says Frank WuCEO of Chinergy.

The Future of Nuclear Powera commission study concluded that in less than 50 years the country will need nearly as much energy output as is currently produced worldwide today.

China is experiencing an 8 to 10 per cent annual increase in energy demandscompared with the 2 to 3 per cent demand increase in the Western Hemisphere. There are 25 nuclear plants forecast to be built in the next five years in Chinacompared with only two new plants scheduled for construction in the USA.

Nuclear power development in mainland China began in 1970. While coal continues to be the main energy sourcemost reserves are in China’s north or northwest regions – a major logistical problem.

Most of China’s electricity is produced from fossil fuels and hydro power. Two large hydro projects are now under constructionat Three Gorges and Yellow River. Commentators have said that nuclear power must be added to the mix in order to meet demandespecially in the coastal regions far from the coalfields.

The China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA) is responsible for planning and managing the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The CAEA reviews and approves feasibility studies for new plantsalthough the State Development and Planning Commission is ultimately responsible for final approval.

According to Wunuclear energy is safeclean and dependable. “As the country moves forwardnuclear power will become a vital source of electricity and will help reduce China’s dependence on coalnatural gas and oil to drive its rapid growth and modernisation. Currently in Chinathe pressurised water reactor is the priority reactor. Plans call for the high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTR) to be used to supplement current nuclear power generation” he says.

Wu says that China’s 10 megawatt reactor) will revolutionise nuclear power generation across the globe. The benefits of the pebble bed modular reactor are manyand with the opening of the new plant at Weihai in the Shandong Province in 2010China will be the first country to commercially venture into this type of nuclear technology.

The plant will be owned and operated by Huaneng Group; China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corporation; and Tsinghua University.

The HTR-10 is powered by graphite balls about the size of standard billiards balls packed with tiny flecks of uraniumrather than with the conventional white-hot fuel rods used in existing nuclear reactors.

Instead of super-heated waterthe core is bathed in inert heliumwhich can reach much higher temperatures without bursting pipes. With no steam presentno pressure dome is required to prevent leaks.

“First and foremostthis generator will be the safest nuclear power plant ever designed and built” Wu says. “The major safety issue regarding nuclear reactors lies in how to cool them efficientlyas they continue to produce heat even after shutdown. Gas-cooled reactorson the other handdo not need additional safety systems like water-cooled reactors doand they discharge surplus heat. Using the existing operating HTR-10 research reactor at the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology of Tsinghua University in Beijingwe have already done what would be unthinkable in a conventional reactor – we switched off the helium coolant and successfully let the reactor cool down by itself” says Wu.

Secondthe modular design enables the plant to be assembled much more quickly and cost-effectively than traditional nuclear generators. The modules are manufactured from standardised components that can be mass-producedshipped by road or rail and assembled relatively quickly.

The new plants are smallerand new modules can be added as needed. Multiple reactors can be linked around one or more turbinesall monitored from a single control room.

Construction of the $300 million plant should begin in spring 2007with completion targeted for 2010. 

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