China to Build Fourth-Generation Nuclear Plant in April

China will start building a nuclear power plant next month using fourth-generation technology that may be less susceptible to meltdown than Japan’s damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.

The “world’s first high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor” will be installed at Rongcheng in Shandong province, Cui Shaozhang, deputy general manager at Huaneng Nuclear Power Development Co., a unit of China Huaneng Group Corp., the nation’s largest power group, said in an interview yesterday in Singapore.

“There are differences between the Japanese and Chinese reactors,” Cui said. “Japan’s Fukushima plant was using old technology while Chinese reactors are more advanced.”

Japan is trying to prevent a meltdown at Fukushima, where the oldest reactor started operating in 1971, after cooling systems were knocked out by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

The Rongcheng plant will use helium, an inert gas, in its cooling system, and reactor cores will be able to withstand temperatures exceeding 1,600 degrees Celsius (2,912 degrees Fahrenheit) for several hundred hours without melting down, China Business News said this week.

“The Chinese government has encouraged us with the pre-condition of safety and efficiency,” Cui said.

New Technology

China, planning to build more nuclear reactors than any other country, said on March 16 it suspended approval of all new atomic projects until a safety review is carried out. The country’s existing reactors use second-generation technology, the official Xinhua News Agency said on July 22.

“This fourth-generation reactor will make cooling totally independent of external power sources, making it much more safer,” said Jerzy Grynblat, nuclear business director at Sundbyberg, Sweden-based consultant Scandpower AB, said in Singapore today. “Developing new technologies where safety will be increased is very significant after what happened in Japan and countries re-looking their nuclear future.”

China Huaneng, China Nuclear Engineering Corp. and Tsinghua University are joint investors in the 200-megawatt Rongcheng demonstration project, according to Huaneng’s brochure. China National Nuclear Corp., the country’s biggest atomic plant builder, last July reported a successful test of an experimental reactor using fourth-generation technology.

China started operating its first commercial nuclear station in 1994. It currently has 14 reactors in operation, 26 under construction and 28 planned, according to data on the World Nuclear Association’s website.

Rising Capacity

The nation’s nuclear power capacity may reach 40 gigawatts by 2015 and exceed 70 gigawatts by 2020, Han Wenke, head of energy research at the NDRC, said in June. China had 10.82 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity at the end of 2010, the state-owned China Electricity Council said in February.

The nuclear industry has developed several generations of reactors starting with the first in 1950-60s, according to the World Nuclear Association’s website. There’s no such reactor today outside the U.K. The second generation units are used in the U.S. and France while early generation-3 reactor designs have been operating in Japan since 1996, according to the WNA.

“Generation IV designs are still on the drawing board and will not be operational before 2020 at the earliest,” it said. “Late 3rd generation designs are now being built.”

China’s fourth-generation helium gas-cooled reactor was designed and constructed by Tsinghua University of China, according to a research paper by Shouyin Hu on the IAEA website.

China Huaneng Group aims to produce about 35 percent of its electricity using cleaner technology by 2020 to cut pollution, President Cao Peixi said March last year. The company plans to reduce coal consumption per kilowatt-hour of electricity by about 10 percent by 2020, he said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE