China plugs in nuclear breakthrough

2011-07-22 17:33

Beijing - China said on Friday it had hooked its first so-called "fourth generation" nuclear reactor to the grid, a breakthrough that could eventually reduce its reliance on uranium imports.

The experimental fast-neutron reactor is the result of more than 20 years of research and could also help minimise radioactive waste from nuclear energy, the state-run China Institute of Atomic Energy (Ciae) said.

China is the ninth country to develop a fast-neutron reactor, which uses uranium 60 times more efficiently than a normal reactor, helping the country to reduce its reliance on imports of the mineral.

Beijing has stepped up investment in nuclear power in an effort to slash its world-leading carbon emissions and scale down the country's heavy reliance on coal, which accounts for 70% of its energy needs.

But China's uranium reserves are limited, and it will have to import increasingly large amounts as its civilian nuclear programme gathers speed.

Technological step

China - the world's second largest economy - currently has 14 nuclear reactors and is building more than two dozen others. It aims to get 15% of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

According to the World Nuclear Association, it aims to increase nuclear power capacity to 80GW (gigawatts) by 2020 from 10.8GW in 2010.

The fourth-generation reactor, located just outside Beijing, has a capacity of just 20MW. Other recently launched nuclear reactors in China had a capacity of more than 1GW, or 1 000MW.

The latest technological step comes after China succeeded in reprocessing spent nuclear fuel in an experimental reactor in the north-western province of Gansu in January.

Authorities said this would help extend the lifespan of proven uranium deposits to 3 000 years from the current forecast of 50 - 70 years.

Beijing has also pledged to improve emergency procedures and construction standards at its nuclear power plants, after Japan's devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami triggered an atomic crisis.

  • Mukiwa - 2011-07-22 19:26

    How does this fast-neutron or any nuclear reactor get classified as "renewable" power when it's not. It might be a carbon-neutral or carbon-free power source, but that's a definition not in use.

  • Horst - 2011-07-22 19:55

    Good, these Chinese are moving in the right direction. There is a future for Nuclear energy.

      Leon Coetzer - 2011-07-23 02:55

      And the country with the most Uranium deposit in the entire world is.....Australia!

  • Isuru - 2011-07-22 20:46

    @Horst do u know that it takes diesel power generators to keep these reactors at a low enough temperature to be controlled, it's done by means of maintaining the coolant (usually water). And when the uranium deposits become scarce in the long run, what then will we do? A future for nuclear energy??? Really??? That's the same perception/attitude the older generation had with coal/oil.... and look what that's doing to us now.... I would think twice my friend.

      Horst - 2011-07-22 22:51

      I am thinking ...... no, there is plenty of Uranium in the ground. I don't subscribe to the thinking of the Club of Rome (was it in the 60th) which predicted the end of nearly everything. Also subsequent predictions of the end of resources have been shown to be incorrect. Its all a question of price and if the price is high enough we can even extract the stuff from seawater or go and fetch it from the moon or mars.

      Horst - 2011-07-22 22:53

      Sorry, an other point. Surely they use the electricity generated to run these cooling pumps and only revert to diesel when the reactor is down or in an emergency.

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