China puts pioneering 'pebble bed' nuclear reactor into operation

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China has launched a new high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear plant in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, the first to make use of 'pebble bed reactor' (PBR) technology developed by state-run China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

The first unit of the Shidaowan reactor project, built near the city of Rongcheng in collaboration with the energy group Huaneng and Beijing's Tsinghua University, has now been connected to the grid, CNNC said on Monday.

The unit has total generation capacity of around 200 megawatts, and a second unit is still under construction.

In PBR technology, the reactor core is formed from graphite pebbles that contain specially designed fuel particles. The design allows reactors to be run safely at higher temperatures, CNNC said, describing it as "the reactor that won't melt down".

China is one of the few countries in the world with an active nuclear reactor programme, but it has struggled to meet its construction targets after a moratorium on new projects and a long safety probe following Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Total capacity hit 51 gigawatts (GW) by the end of last year, falling short of a 58 GW target. CNNC has urged the government to approve at least six new projects a year over the next decade in order to bring total capacity up to 180 GW by 2035.

CNNC said the technology employed at the Shidaowan project was completely home-grown, with 93.4% of all the equipment also sourced domestically.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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