It seems the nuclear fiddling and diddling will never end. China this time, although many others also are in the nuclear power experimental business. From the article (see link below), one might conclude that this reactor technology is the greatest thing that has ever happened in the entire history of inventions. Curiously, though, that only the Chinese have been able to do this, and nobody else in all of recorded history. The reality is quite different. The MIT writer appears to have listed only the glowing positives about the new nuclear plant, and completely ignored all the negative aspects. Or, perhaps he simply does not know of the negatives, or perhaps no one mentioned them.
see link to MIT's article "China Could Have a Melt-down Proof Nuclear Reactor Next Year"
My previous articles on SLB address the so-called advantages and the insurmountable problems of this pebble-bed gas-turbine nuclear reactor. see link to Truth About Nuclear Power - Part 29, "High Temperature Gas Reactor Still A Dream." Disadvantages, with one exception not at all presented in the MIT article above, include many serious technical challenges that must be overcome. One of the greatest problems is not unique to nuclear gas-drive reactors, it has plagued every industry in which it occurs: how to achieve a lock-hopper to inject discrete objects into a high-pressure chamber. In the case of the pebble-and-gas nuclear reactor, one must also have a second lock hopper to remove the spent pebbles. The MIT cheerleader article merely mentions the high cost of the fuel and reactor components as drawbacks. Then, the article goes on to say that these are minor problems that will disappear with experience and mass production. SLB has much to say on that topic, as nuclear plants do not exhibit mass production economies of scale. see link to TANP article that discusses nuclear plants and various aspects of economy of scale.
From TANP - Part 29 on the pebble-bed-gas-reactors, there are six major drawbacks to the technology: "Given the dismal experience in other industries with similar reactors operating at high pressure that attempt to inject a solid into the reactor, it is not surprising that the HTGR (high-temperature gas reactors) also fail. It is true that low-pressure systems can be made to work, but the high-pressure ball injection and removal systems are problematic. The high cost of every component is also a factor. The inherently small electrical output will forever keep the plants from enjoying economy of scale – at least until another advance is made in the gas-turbine and compressor technology.
The large size of the heat exchangers adds to the cost, primarily due to the low heat transfer coefficient of the helium gas. This is an immutable characteristic of gas heat exchange, and has been known for many decades. The dismal experience of researchers in several countries over several decades does not bode well for the future of HTGR. The most important issues, though, are the production of explosive graphite dust, and production of lethal radionuclides in the reactor that are transported into the helium circulation loop that includes the heat exchangers, turbine, and compressors."
A note about China and its nuclear power program: China faces serious obstacles in developing sufficient electrical power supplies to achieve a modernized society. As stated in many references, China has very little coal remaining, and the coal is inconveniently located far from the consumers. China also has very little natural gas. There is a small amount of hydroelectric energy, some already developed and some yet to be achieved. China has, then, few options. It can import coal, import LNG, or build nuclear plants. Building wind and solar, with appropriate storage, is also an option. I suspect that, given the huge population, China will soon begin recycling human waste into synthetic natural gas, SNG. In the meantime, it is apparent that building nuclear power plants is high on the agenda.
One hopes, for the safety and health of the world population, that appropriate design standards are used, good construction practices are employed, and operations are conducted safely. It will be quite interesting to observe the on-line factor for this reactor, if the Chinese publish such operating data.
Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
Copyright © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved