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China launches world’s ‘most advanced’ nuclear reactor that’s cooled by gas, not water

China launches world’s ‘most advanced’ nuclear reactor that’s cooled by gas, not water

China has begun operations of the world’s first fourth-generation nuclear reactor that uses gas for cooling unlike conventional power plants that use pressurised water.

The power plant built in China’s Shandong province generates power from two high-temperature reactors that are cooled by gas rather than water, state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

Nuclear fission reactors typically generate power by breaking atoms and using the energy released to produce steam that runs turbines.

The steam is then cooled by water in a condenser circuit with the hot water then going to a cooling tower.

Currently water-cooled reactors account for over 95 per cent of all operating civilian power reactors globally while gas cooled ones make up about three per cent worldwide.

Interest in gas cooled reactors is increasing globally as these can provide efficient and cost effective electricity.

Such small modular reactors can also produce high-temperature process heat for industrial applications such as hydrogen production, seawater desalination, and district heating, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The reactor in Shidao Bay, China is the world’s first gas-cooled nuclear power plant built for commercial demonstration.

It is cooled by helium and can reach high temperatures of up to 750 degrees Celsius.

Construction of the plant started in 2012 and its first reactor was connected to the country’s power grid in 2021, AFP reported.

Such reactors, experts say, can also play a significant role in helping countries with energy transition due to their compact architecture and modular design reducing construction time and costs.

Over 80 SMR projects are currently under development across 18 countries, according to the IAEA.

China has already sought to become a global leader in nuclear power generation with the country planning to make these types of power plants account for 10 per cent of the its electricity generation by 2035.

The latest power plant launch also signifies China’s attempt to move away from coal-fired power plants and reduce its dependence on foreign technologies amid growing tensions with Western countries.