Pebble-bed reactor for China

A Chinese group led by Huaneng Power International has announced plans to begin construction this year of the first commercial nuclear power station using pebble-bed technology.

The 190-megawatt reactor will be built in Weihai in the ShadongProvince of eastern China and will cost around $375 million. Huaneng Group will own 50 per cent of the facility, China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corp will own 35 percent and five percent will go to Beijing’s TsinghuaUniversity, which developed the prototype. The remaining 20 per cent will be owned by a local company.

The announcement came during a two-day EU-China energy conference held in Shanghai. It forms part of China’s $48 billion plan to expand nuclear power capacity sixfold by 2020.

Pebble-bed reactors use pyrolytic graphite spheres with uranium cores. An inert gas such as helium is used as a coolant to drive the turbines. This is considered to make the reactor safer as it is non-combustible, non-corrosive and does not dissolve contaminants or absorb neutrons.