China Develops Next-generation Nuclear Energy Technology
Nhina revealed the current status of high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) development, which is a next-generation nuclear energy technology, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, on September 19. A HTGR uses helium as coolant, unlike conventional nuclear reactors using water. It is considered a typical future nuclear power technology.
During the presentation, China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC), a joint venture of China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Group and Tsinghua University, said, “After five years of development, we have completed the HTGR installment in Shandong. We will operate a test run by the end of April next year for commercial operation.” South Korea has also been carrying out research and development of HTGR from 2003 but there is little progress.
Accordingly, some industry sources say that China has started outperforming South Korea in some nuclear energy technology sectors. Based on its enormous capital power and expertise in the state’s nuclear power plant management, China is rapidly dominating the global nuclear energy market and has already surpassed South Korea in terms of quantitative competition. As the South Korean government has vowed to phase out the country’s dependence on nuclear power, there are concerns that the country can lag behind China in terms of qualitative competition as well.
A HTGR is considered a typical next-generation reactor in the global nuclear power industry. Existing nuclear power plants generate electricity by boiling water with heat caused by nuclear fission to make steam to run a turbine. China’s latest HTGR works in exactly same way: making use of heat to generate electricity. However, it can rapidly raise the temperature to the level to generate steam because it applies heat to helium, instead of water. In short, it has better efficiency. Moreover, the temperature of helium can be increased to 750 to 950 degrees Celsius, which is two to three times higher than water. The gas can be supplied to companies which need high-temperature heat such as oil refining and petrochemical plants.
The generation of nuclear reactors can be divided based on safety and economic feasibility. The first generation of nuclear reactors were developed in the 1950s and 1960s for laboratory experiment. The second generation of nuclear reactors were commercial reactors in the 1970s and 1990s. The third generation of reactors improved the safety due to growing concerns over nuclear power plants after Chernobyl accident in Russia and Three Mile Island accident in the U.S. The fourth generation of nuclear reactors increased both safety and efficiency. China’s HTGR is classified as the fourth generation of nuclear reactors. South Korea is still in the third generation level of reactors. China is also accelerating the development of sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), which is another fourth-generation nuclear energy. The SFR uses sodium as coolant and it is safe even when it loses power as sodium has a higher cooling effect than water.