China signs up Russian fast reactors

15 October 2009

A high-level agreement has been signed for Russia to start pre-project and design works for two commercial 800 MWe fast neutron reactors in China, while a deal for more conventional reactors draws closer.


Putin Kiriyenko Beijing October 2009 (Alexsey Druginyn, STF)
Rosatom chief Sergey Kiriyenko with
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin
in Beijing earlier this week
(Image: Alexsey Druginyn, STF)

This follows a call twelve months ago by the Russian-Chinese Nuclear Cooperation Commission for construction of a demonstration fast reactor similar to the BN-800 unit being built at Beloyarsk in Russia and due to start up in 2012. Earlier this year, St Petersburg Atomenergopoekt said it was starting design work on a BN-800 reactor for China, with two proposed at coastal sites. The project is expected to lead to bilateral cooperation on fuel cycles for fast reactors.


Russia and China are already cooperating on one fast reactor, a small 65 MWt sodium-cooled unit known as the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor at the China Institute of Atomic Energy near Beijing. OKBM Afrikantov is leading a Russian collaboration to build the unit, which is nearing completion and is expected to achieve first criticality later this year.


Commercial-scale fast reactors based on it were envisaged but these may now give way to the Russian BN-800 project, which would be the first time commercial-scale fast neutron reactors have ever been exported. While thermal-spectrum nuclear reactors are the mainstay of atomic energy at the moment, by about 2040 future fuel cycles based on fast-spectrum reactors could extend uranium supplies for many centuries. While several leading nuclear nations have developed prototypes with varying levels of success, only Russia is currently committed to their commercial use.


Tianwan 3 and 4


Igor Sechin at Tianwan (CNNC)
Russian deputy prime miniser
Igor Sechin during the Tianwan visit
(Image: CNNC)
The fast reactor deal was made yesterday during a visit by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin to Beijing for talks with Premier Wen Jiabao. In attendance were the respective heads of the country's centrally-planned nuclear programs, Sergey Kiriyenko of Rosatom and Sun Qin of China National Nuclear Corporation.


Part of the delegation paid a visit to the Tianwan nuclear power plant in Jiangsu province, where two Russian VVER-1000 pressurized water reactors already operate. Two more are slated for the site and negotiations reportedly placed a ceiling on the price of these before moving on to consider another four similar units at the power plant.