China has declared the successful initiation of the world’s first Generation IV commercial nuclear reactor, the Shidao Bay Nuclear Power Plant HTR-PM high-temperature gas-cooled (HTGR) pebble-bed reactor in Shandong Province. Commencing operations in December 2023, Generation IV reactors represent the next phase in nuclear power technology, promising enhanced affordability, safety, and efficiency compared to current reactors.
The evolutionary nomenclature of nuclear reactors places Generation IV as the future iteration, building upon the progression from Generation I experimental reactors to Generation II commercial reactors and then Generation III, which constituted improved versions of Generation II reactors. The development of Generation IV reactors, including China’s HTR-PM, has spanned decades, with certain technologies tracing back to the 1950s. This extended timeline results from the intricate task of integrating diverse new technologies into a cohesive package, drawing from nearly 80 years of reactor operation experience.
HTR-PM is one of three reactors at Shidao Bay, accompanied by two CAP1400 reactors, Generation IIIs based on a Westinghouse design. Comprising two pebble-bed reactors connected to a 210-MWe steam turbine and a helium blower for cooling, HTR-PM’s design features pressure vessels with mechanisms for fuel pebble insertion and extraction. The pebbles, composed of uranium and carbon encased in a ceramic shell, confer unique properties to the reactor.
Operating at 2 x 250 MWth, HTR-PM achieves a steam outlet temperature of 500 °C (930 °F). Noteworthy for its Generation IV classification, the reactor incorporates safety innovations, such as passive cooling, temperature-resistant fuel, fission reaction self-regulation, and autonomous emergency resilience. Due to its helium cooling system, the reactor doesn’t necessitate proximity to coasts or large bodies of water, providing flexibility in siting.
Constructed collaboratively by Tsinghua University, China Huaneng Group, and the China National Nuclear Company, HTR-PM aims to supply steam and electricity for the petrochemical industry while serving as a prototype for future reactors envisioned to replace coal-fired power plants in China’s interior over the next few decades. This milestone underscores China’s commitment to advancing nuclear technology for cleaner and more sustainable energy solutions.