Chinese AP1000s and EPRs online

2018-07-05

in Economics, Politics, The environment

Two main examples of new western nuclear plant designs are the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR, discussed earlier) and the Westinghouse AP1000.

All efforts to install either are way over budget and behind schedule in the United States and Europe. China just opened one of each on successive days at the end of June.

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. June 4, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Second Chinese EPR achieves criticality

Unit 2 of the Taishan nuclear power plant in China’s Guangdong province has attained a sustained chain reaction for the first time, becoming the second EPR reactor to reach the commissioning milestone after Taishan 1.

. June 4, 2019 at 2:46 pm

“Construction of unit 1 of the Taishan plant started in 2009, followed by that of unit 2 in 2010. These two units are the third and fourth EPR units under construction globally, after the Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland and the Flamanville 3 project in France. The EPR design adopted in Taishan was developed by Framatome. Two EPR units are also under construction at the Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, UK.

Taishan 1 achieved first criticality on 6 June last year and was connected to the grid on 29 June. It was declared to be in commercial operation on 13 December.

The loading of fuel into the core of unit 2 began earlier this month.”

. July 18, 2019 at 2:59 pm

China’s energy research also extends to areas that the rest of the world is avoiding. China is building 13 new nuclear reactors to add to its fleet of 45; it has 43 more planned. If they are all built China will become the world’s biggest generator of nuclear electricity. Those reactors are of similar design to the plants already in operation around the world. But China is also exploring new reactor technologies—or rather, technologies abandoned elsewhere. These include reactors in which the core is filled not with fuel rods but with little ceramic pebbles—or, in the case of thorium reactors, with molten metal.

The lack of progress such reactors have enjoyed in the West reflects a lack of appetite for new sorts of nuclear power much more than a lack of scientific plausibility. If China’s appetite is sharp and its researchers imaginative, progress may come swiftly. The development of mass-produced, compact, cheap and safe nuclear reactors would be a Chinese first that a world in the throes of climate change would have real cause to celelebrate—and start importing.

That possibility, though, brings to the fore a shadow over the future of Chinese science. Making novel nuclear reactors extremely safe requires critical thinking and obstinate truth-telling; so does convincing others that you have done so. A culture that provides the results the boss wants, or does not investigate inconvenient anomalies, or withholds data from nosy outsiders is not good enough.

Those requirements are very like the norms that are seen as basic to doing good science in the West. Testing hypotheses, finding the flaws in the work on which your teacher’s reputation rests, questioning your own assumptions, following the data wherever they lead, sharing data openly with your rivals-sorry-colleagues: this is how science is meant to work, even if in real life the ideal can be a bit tarnished. In some labs and institutions in China things doubtless do work that way. But the authoritarian system in which they are embedded makes it hard for Chinese science to speak truth to power, or escape challenges to its integrity. This gnaws at the scientific body politic, and saps resources, both financial and moral.

. October 7, 2019 at 7:54 pm

The proportion of China’s energy that is produced from coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels, is still high. But it has decreased by more than ten percentage points over the past decade, to below 60%. A third of the world’s electricity-generating capacity from wind is now in China, as are a quarter of the world’s solar panels in use. The country is building 11 more nuclear reactors, to add to its existing 47. From next year China will start requiring fossil-fuelled power firms to buy and sell credits in a national carbon-trading scheme—though it may be years before the system results in big cuts in emissions.

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