New Type of Nuclear Reactor Put into Use in Beijing

China's first high temperature gas-cooled reactor has begun generating power in a full swing in Beijing recently, a leading researcher said Saturday in Beijing.

The development of the reactor represents a major step in China's safe use of nuclear energy to resolve its energy shortage, said Wu Zongxin, a professor with the Nuclear Energy Technology Institute of Tsinghua University.

China is the fifth country in the world to master the technology for building this type of reactor, following the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan.

Construction of the reactor began in 1995, at a total cost of 250 million yuan (30 million US dollars). The reactor has undergone 100 safety tests since it began thermal state testing in December 2000.

It has a shorter production circle and lower production cost compared with other types of reactors, Wu said.

Moreover, there is no need for regular reactor shut-down, since the reactor can be re-fueled at any time. This, of course, enhances its utilization rate.

The reactor produces temperatures three times that of pressurized water reactors and is operationally very secure, Wu said.

Several key components of the reactor were designed and produced by China under the country's high technology research development plan, commonly-known as the "863 Program". The successful development of the reactor paves the way for the building of similar or larger nuclear power stations in China.

The high temperature gas-cooled reactor is generally believed to be the safest reactor in use in the world. In the event of an accident, the reactor shuts down automatically and cools the surplus heat inside the reactor. A nuclear accident such as Chernobyl is absolutely impossible, Wu said.

China has been shifting the focus of nuclear power usage from defense to civilian use since the 1980s. The country has already built three nuclear power stations, two of which started commercial operations in the 1990s. Four nuclear generating units are currently under construction. The country's installed nuclear power capacity will reach 8.7 million kilowatts in three years.

But all these nuclear facilities are equipped with pressurized water reactors, and the key spare parts were made in cooperation with overseas producers. As a result, both the production costs and the price of electricity produced are higher than those of thermal and hydro-electric power stations.

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency believe the high temperature gas-cooled reactor presents a challenge to coal-fuelled power plants.

In view of the anticipated rapid growth in car purchases in the next few years, China is facing an increasingly serious oil shortage.

China became a petroleum importer a decade ago. Experts predict that the domestic demand for petroleum products will grow by three to four percent this year.

China is actively promoting clean energy production. By 2004, the ratio of nuclear energy as a percentage of China's total energy production will have risen from the current one percent to four percent. The figure is still much lower than the world average of 16 percent.

People`s Daily