China showed off its first new generation of reactor on Beijing's northern outskirts Thursday in an effort to demonstrate not only its safety and reliability but its progress in overcoming its chronic energy shortage.
The high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, designed at prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, was on display at a location near the Great Wall, roughly 40 km north of downtown Beijing.
More than 60 atomic energy experts from over 30 countries watched the safety operation, in which the reactor successfully cooled down after the control stick was pulled out. The operation had been demonstrated before.
Scientists have said the major safety issue regarding nuclear reactors lies in how to cool them efficiently, as they continue produce heat even after shutdown.
Gas-cooled reactors are now widely considered the most secure. They don't need additional safety systems, as do water cooled reactor, and they discharge surplus heat, which could damage elements of the device.
"It will not cause a catastrophe such as the one at Chernobyl in the Ukraine at any time," said Qian Jihui, former deputy chief of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a noted atomic scientist with an international reputation.
IAEA official Byung-Koo Kim said that the operation of the reactor was "rather impressive."
Owing to technological improvement, Kim acknowledged, gas-cooled reactors will be introduced extensively for business purposes in the coming decades, and international cooperation will also be greatly reinforced.
China is the fifth nation in the world to master the technology -- the others being the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan -- and remains in the lead in the peaceful application of nuclear energy, said Qian.
Andrew C. Kadak, former president of the American Nuclear Society and a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said after the demonstration that MIT has reached an agreement with Tsinghua University on research cooperation.
With an budget of more than 250 million yuan (US$30 million), the gas-cooled reactor was constructed in 1995 and incorporated into the power network in 2003.
With helium refrigerant and ceramic components, fuel temperature in the reactor can reach up to 1,600 degrees Celsius.
Qian said China is building another high-temperature gas-cooled reactor with a capacity of 160,000 kw. It will be completed in 2010 with a total cost of 2 billion yuan (US$240 million) at either Qingdao or Anqing City.
China, which detonated its first atomic bomb in 1964, has focused on the civil use of nuclear energy since the 1980s.
Two nuclear power plants started operation in the 1990s and four more are under construction. Their cost is much higher than ordinary power generators because they all use water-cooled reactors and imported technologies, noted Qian.
Experts believe the use of gas-cooled reactors will significantly cut costs and enhance the competitive edge of nuclear power plants, which might finally trigger a new revolution in the energy field.
Analysts held that China would surely run short of petroleum due to its rapid economic development and energy consumption.
Nuclear electricity accounts for 2 percent of China's energy consumption. It is likely to reach 6 percent in 2020, still low compared with world average of 16 percent, the analysts said.
(Xinhua News Agency October 1, 2004)