A Chinese company is testing the world’s first small modular nuclear reactor. The small modular reactor could be a game-changer because it could be cheaper, safer, and easier to deploy than traditional reactors.
The China Huaneng Group is generating electricity with the modular reactor at Shidao Bay in Shandong Province, Bloomberg reports. The Shidao Bay Unit 1 has a radically different design from traditional nuclear power plants.
For example, Unit 1 heats helium gas to move a turbine to produce electricity. In contrast, most nuclear reactors heat water to create steam to power a generator. That makes the small modular reactor cheaper and easier to deploy because it needs no plumbing to move water.
A Smaller Safer Nuclear Reactor
Additionally, the small modular reactor uses a pebble-bed design, Interesting Engineering reports. Notably, the small modular reactor is gas-cooled. In contrast, water cools most nuclear reactors.
One advantage to gas-cooled reactors is that there is no chance of enormous amounts of radioactive water pouring into oceans or rivers. For instance, the Fukushima Daichi accident contaminated the Pacific Ocean with radioactive water.
They claim the fourth-generation reactor is safer because it can shut down faster than normal nuclear reactors. Moreover, they claim the small modular reactor will automatically trigger safety measures if something goes wrong.
The small modular reactor only generates about 200 megawatts of electricity because it is one fifth the size of a typical nuclear power plant. For example, China’s normal Hualong One reactor generates around 1,000 megawatts of electricity, I estimate.
Decentralized Nuclear Power
An enormous advantage to a gas-cooled small modular reactor is that it could take up far less space than a traditional reactor. Hence, you could easily install modular reactors at existing power plants to replace coal, oil, or natural gas burning generators.
Another advantage is that you could use small modular reactors to build a decentralized power generation system. A decentralized power grid is more resilient because it does not depend on a few giant power plants.
Small modular reactors will be easier to deploy in rural regions, developing nations, islands, and other areas that suffer electricity sources. Small modular reactors also have military applications because armies could use them to power bases or weapons in the field. Another use for small modular reactors is emergency power if the grid or other generators fail.
Other uses for small modular reactors including powering industrial facilities and remote communities or bases. A long-term use for a modular reactor could be powering the Chinese moon base.
China Leads the Nuclear Power Race
Interestingly, the China Huaneng Group plans to deploy a second modular reactor at Shidao Bay this year, Bloomberg claims. Thus, it appears the Chinese are leading the race to deploy small modular reactors.
The People’s Republic of China is now the world’s leading investor in nuclear power. The Chinese government could invest up to $440 billion in new nuclear power plants over the next 15 years, Bloomberg estimates. If that plan succeeds it could make China the world’s top generator of nuclear power.
Plus, small modular reactors could make China a leader in the battle against climate change. To explain, the Chinese government and companies will be able to help other nations abandon fossil fuels by selling them modular reactors.
It looks as if China is beating the United States in another vital area. America’s neglect of science and technology is turning the USA into a second-rate power.