China unveils new generation nuclear reactor

China has started commercial operations at a new generation nuclear reactor that it claims is the first of its kind in the world, according to state media.

Xinhua news agency also said the 200 megawatt (MW) high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor (HTGCR) plant developed jointly by state-run utility Huaneng, Tsinghua University and China National Nuclear Corporation, uses a modular design.

Modular plants refer to those of less than 300MW that can be constructed off site. Proponents say they can operate in remote locations and power traditionally hard-to-abate heavy industry sectors, but critics say they are too expensive.

Compared with previous reactors, the fourth generation Shidaowan plant in China’s northern Shandong province is designed to use fuel more efficiently and improve its economics, safety and environmental footprint as China – in tandem with other major economies – increasingly views  turns to nuclear power as it seeks to compose a more balanced energy portfolio.

The latest news from China comes after NuScale, previously expected to be the first US company licensed to build a small modular reactor, said this month it was terminating a planned 462MW project in Utah because of rising costs.

China has a goal to produce 10% of electricity from nuclear by 2035 and 18% by 2060, but as of September this year had not met its 2020 target to install 58 gigawatts of nuclear capacity.

China has also not signed a pledge by 20 countries at the COP28 climate conference taking place in Dubai to triple nuclear power capacity by 2050.