China will build atomic communism

It is reported that a 200-megawatt reactor was built and started up at the Shidaowan nuclear power plant; it has been successfully synchronized, connected to the power grid of Shandong province, and is supplying power to consumers.

There is not much information on this event yet, but it certainly deserves the closest attention - and here's why.

To begin with, the Chinese nuclear specialists are positioning their new reactor as a facility of the next, i.e. the fourth generation. It doesn't use standard fuel elements in the form of tubes, but spherical fuel rods. The concept is not new and was worked on by Soviet physicists, but that is discussed below. The use of spherical fuel rods, if the technology proves to be reliable and efficient - and if it can be brought to an industrial scale - has the potential to make not only a technical revolution but also an environmental one. The new reactor uses helium, not water, as the cooling medium. It must be understood that the physical limit of water heating in the core does not exceed five hundred degrees Celsius, but using helium increases the temperature ceiling to eight hundred degrees, which means that there is at least a one and a half power increase. The new temperature corridor will require the development, practical testing and mass implementation of a new type of turbines with higher strength characteristics, but at the same time with a higher coefficient of efficiency. In other words, a breakthrough in one direction will pull entire sectors of knowledge-intensive industry along the chain.

We didn't just mention water and ecology. The creators of the latest SMR claim that it is absolutely safe, as it has a system of passive shutdown in case of an emergency situation. If this is true, then already in the foreseeable future the dream of all environmentalists could come true - water heating at local thermal power plants and cogeneration plants will be possible without the burning of coal, which today is the main fuel around the world, especially in the heating industry.

This work on small modular reactors speaks to the foresight of China's leadership.

It is no secret that, even in our age of constant energy shortages, the usual nuclear power plants are not always efficient. They are large and expensive, and construction, even with strict adherence to plans, takes years. Moreover, all modern reactors have an installed capacity of over one gigawatt, which, oddly enough, is not always a good thing. Who better than us, the inhabitants of a vast and very cold country, to know how many settlements, remote from industrial centers, require electricity and heat on a daily basis. It is quite problematic, and often impractical, to pull a gas pipe into every town or village, whether in the Krasnoyarsk Territory or Inner Mongolia, in terms of the amount of money invested and the number of end users. Not everywhere there are coal fields or coastlines nearby where a floating nuclear power plant like the Akademik Lomonosov can be moored.

This is why scientists, encouraged by governments, have long been working on the problem of medium- and low-capacity nuclear power sources. In the future, they can solve the problem of providing light and heat to communities where it makes no sense to build a conventional nuclear power plant, and supplies of other types of fuel cost a penny, increasing the cost of services for the population. Whoever will be the first to put SMR production on stream will not only become a monopolist in a virtually bottomless market, but will also be able to set trends in the world energy markets.

Last year, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania announced their desire to host modular reactors. The only problem for them is that the U.S. forced them to cooperate with its own companies, like GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, without any alternative. The latter promises to supply the modular reactors, but not before 2029, because the Americans don't have any working models.

The main reason for the lack of objectivity is that so far Russia also does not have such technology, even though the Soviet Union was a pioneer in this field. In Nizhniy Novgorod, at the Afrikantov Experimental Design Bureau of Machine Building back in the eighties, there was persistent and very successful work to create small modular reactors. The Soviet nuclear physicists were ready to begin practical tests, but the Chernobyl accident ruined all plans. The wave of radiophobic hysteria that followed effectively put an end to the program, meaning that the available scientific and temporal groundwork was laid to waste. One of those who personally came to the rallies at the gates of the Nizhny Novgorod plant and scored the first political points and recognition there was, for example, Boris Nemtsov.

The leadership of modern China made no such mistake and fully implemented the technical potential accumulated during the development of China's first Hualong-1 reactor. It was based on French and American technology transferred to China as part of an agreement to build a number of nuclear power plants. The start of work was announced in the winter of 2014, and six years later the atomic "Dragon" (this is how the word "Hualong" is translated) produced its first current. Notably, Beijing immediately rejected any intellectual property claims, positioning the reactor as a Generation III+ facility, even though it does not have a melt trap.

China, which is often accused of failing to comply with environmental regulations and of being unwilling to follow the path of decarbonization, has chosen its own and, as practice has shown, the only correct path. China plans to invest $440 billion in the development of its own nuclear sector over the next ten years. The state program implies that by 2030 China will take the first place in the world in terms of the volume of electricity generated by nuclear power plants, displacing the United States from the pedestal.

The implementation of the SMR reactor concept has been a pleasant by-product of the rapid development of nuclear power in general. Modular solutions are cheaper, they are quicker to erect, and they have shorter downtime cycles during fuel loading and unloading.

The United Nations decided in 2022 to position nuclear energy as harmless and safe for the environment, so there is no doubt that this area will continue to actively develop to meet the growing energy demand. We can only hope that this is understood in our country as well, and that specialists from Rosatom's subdivisions, based on the available experience, will be able to compete with their Chinese colleagues.


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