Thursday, September 02, 2004

Let One Thousand Reactors Bloom

Wired is reporting that China plans to build 30 new nuclear reactors by the year 2020. Some estimates say that by the year 2050, they will need 200 to meet their growing energy demands. The Chinese currently operate nine reactors. Some of the new reactors will be built using current technologies, but the Chinese are also planning to introduce new Pebble-Bed Reactors, or PBMRs (pebble bed modular reactors). These are small enough to be assembled from mass-produced parts and are relatively cheap and safe.

This type of reactor is not dependent on operator skill or reinforced concrete for safety. The design's low fuel density help make it meltdown proof. To prove it, project director Zhang Zuoyi at Tsinghua University north of Beijing staged a demonstration where he intentionally turned off the helium reactor coolant! Instead of a repeat of Chernobyl, they got a reactor that just cooled off by itself. The Chinese expect to have scaled the design up to 200MW by 2010.

Maybe this will get the moribund U.S. reactor industry started again, reducing our dependence on foreign oil.


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