Chinese physicists have completed the first and most crucial step towards what they claim will be the world’s first commercial onshore modular reactor.
Because it is mobile, the core for the ‘Linglong One’ nuclear reactor, built by China First Heavy Industries, is an ideal candidate for small islands and other remote locations.
The breakthrough marks a milestone towards full-scale manufacturing of small, modular pressurised water reactors, according to Chinese nuclear authorities.
Construction on the project began in 2021 at Hainan Island’s Changjiang power plant in 2021 and is scheduled to be completed sometime towards the end of 2026. Once operational, Linglong One will produce one billion kilowatt-hours – enough to power an estimated 526 000 homes.
Small modular pressurised water reactors (PWR) were first designed for use in nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers, and generally have a capacity of 300 megawatts per unit – about a third of the energy of their more standardised counterparts.
PWRs are now used for electricity generation, heating, cooling, desalination and steam production for industry and are mobile enough to build offshore, freeing up ever-more valuable space on land.
In 2020 Russia began operating the Akademik Lomonosov, the world’s first and only floating nuclear rig.
Chairman and party chief for the China National Nuclear Power Company, Lu Tiezhong, proposed that the smaller PWRs would be well-suited for use on small islands with modest populations.
Several of China’s Belt and Road partners in South Asia, like the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, are surrounded by hundreds of small islands, making them ideal candidates for PWRs similar to Linglong One, said Lu, speaking with Science and Technology Daily in 2021.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, with sparse population bases in remote areas would also see great value by incorporating them into their energy mix, he added.
There are at least 70 small modular PWRs under development by countries including Russia, Argentina and South Korea, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Linglong One’s core, the proverbial heart of the reactor, was made exclusively with Chinese resources and expertise, according to China First Heavy Industries technician, Wu Qiong.
In 2016, Linglong One was subjected to an independent safety review by the IAEA, which reported the experimental reactor was robust and stable enough to cope with extreme conditions and system failures.