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Super-efficient nuke reactor set for trial
By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-05 07:16

Chinese scientists are planning super-efficient nuclear reactors that can maximize uranium burn-up and minimize waste in the generation of electricity.

If the first experimental reactor, set to be in operation by 2010, is successfl, the technology could help relieve China's uranium supply problems as the country accelerates nuclear power plant construction.

China Academy of Atomic Science President Zhao Zhixiang said a team of scientists has already mapped a detailed plan to speed up research and utilization of the so-called next-generation fast reactors.

The new reactors are expected to burn 60-70 per cent of their uranium fuel - a conventional reactor consumes only 0.7 per cent of the uranium it is fed.

"This kind of reactor can greatly improve the efficiency of fuel burn-up, and we are trying our best to put the experimental reactor into use over the next five years," Zhao said.

Current reactors are only able to harness the power of 0.7 per cent of the radioactive isotopes found in natural uranium.

In the fast reactor, the process is optimized so that more of the previously untapped isotopes can be used to generate electricity, burning-up fuel at least 60 times more efficiently than in a normal reactor.

"We will have no concerns over fuel supply if such reactors are used to generate electricity commercially," Zhao said.

China started research into fast nuclear reactor technology in 1995 and invested 1.38 billion yuan (US$170.2 million) into the construction of the experimental reactor.

"I hope an experimental reactor with a capacity of 200,000 kilowatts can be put into use by 2010," Zhao said. He added that construction of the reactor is close to completion but did not identify the site of the project under the High and New Technology Research and Development Programme of the Chinese Government.

He also said plans for a fast-reactor prototype are expected to be included in the country's medium- and long-term science and technology development blueprints.

The prototype reactor, with a capacity of 600,000 kilowatts, will be constructed and put into operation by 2020, Zhao said, adding: "After that, we will consider commercial operation of the reactor."

As China's economy keeps developing rapidly, demand for power also keeps increasing. To meet its growing energy demands, China has mapped out a national plan to increase nuclear generating capacity to 36,000 megawatts by 2020, up from 8,700 megawatts today. The proportion of national power output supplied by nuclear energy is expected to rise from 2.3 per cent now to 4 per cent.

A senior official from the National Development and Reform Commission told China Daily that the country will have an even more ambitious plan to generate nuclear power after 2020.

"All the plans urged our researchers to develop our own core technologies for the reactors," said the official, who declined to be named. "And I personally believe the fast reactor will play a leading role during the 2040-50 period in China's nuclear plant construction."

Apart from fast reactor research, China has also made a breakthrough in gas-cooled nuclear reactors, which can generate considerably higher temperatures than conventional nuclear reactors, leading to a high power generating capacity.

Using helium as a coolant, the reactor, mainly developed by researchers from Tsinghua University, is also able to shut down and cool automatically in an emergency. Senior State Council officials have called for early commercial application of China's first gas-cooled nuclear reactor to help restructure China's energy supply strategy.

Most of the nuclear reactors currently in operation in China rely on technology imported from France and Russia.

(China Daily 10/05/2005 page1)

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