Posted by David Martin


Flag of the People’s Republic of China. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In the space of just over 20 years, China has transformed from a country with no commercial nuclear reactors, to one of the world’s leading nuclear nations. There are now 21 nuclear power stations in China, with a further 27 currently being built, and more slated for future construction.

With chronic air pollution problems, growing electricity demand and a cap on carbon emissions in the offing, the Chinese government is aware that current generation nuclear technology will not be sufficient to meet the huge challenges of the coming decades. To that end, China is pursuing the world’s most comprehensive and ambitious portfolio of Generation IV and advanced reactor R&D work.

We’ve followed China’s Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) programme closely, and members of the Alvin Weinberg Foundation team toured the Chinese MSR facilities in 2012. China leads the world on MSR R&D, with both a molten salt-cooled pebble-bed reactor, and a molten salt-cooled and fuelled reactor in the pipeline. The South China Morning Post reported earlier this year that the Chinese government had brought forward the completion date of the MSR programme to 2024, and that researchers on the programme were under ‘unprecedented ‘war-like’ pressure to succeed’.

Chinese ambitions don’t stop at MSRs, however. Here’s an overview of the other next generation fission systems currently in development in China:

  • Sodium-cooled Fast Reactor (SFR) – The 65MWe Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) went critical in mid-2010, and began supplying the grid a year later. A 600MWe version is due to be completed around 2023, with a commercial version planned to be available around 2030. The Chinese Institute of Atomic Energy identifies two scenarios for Fast Reactor deployment – one to disposition minor actinides from spent PWR fuel, and the other to breed fuel in the event of high uranium prices or supply shortage.
  • Supercritical Water-Cooled Reactor (SWCR) – In June 2014, China announced their plan to produce a 1000MWe demonstration SWCR known as SCR-1000, with commissioning scheduled for 2022-2025. China is currently collaborating with Euratom on fuel qualification tests for the SWCR.
  • High Temperature, Gas-cooled Reactor (HTR) – A 10MWe helium-cooled, pebble fuel test reactor based at Beijing’s Tsinghua University has been operating at full power since 2003. Construction of a small modular 200MWe prototype (HTR-PM) started in 2012, and is due to be completed by 2017. China envisages the HTR-PM as a source of electricity to supplement Generation III reactors, as a source of process heat, and as an ideal reactor for export to developing countries due to its size and flexibility.

China’s impressive Gen IV R&D portfolio provides a sharp contrast to the nuclear R&D situation in Britain. Since the closure of Dounreay in 1994, the UK has not had an advanced nuclear fission programme. This could change if the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board’s (NIRAB) forthcoming January 2015 report recommends the government invests in Generation IV R&D. We’re hopeful that NIRAB’s report will be bold and ambitious, and that government will be receptive to any suggestions made.

Without further government investment in Gen IV research, Britain will be left behind, while other nations partner with China on next generation nuclear R&D.  The Sino-American partnership on climate change is developing alongside increasing collaboration between the two superpowers on advanced nuclear fission research.  The US and China have been jointly developing the molten salt-cooled reactor known as the Fluoride-salt-cooled High Temperature Reactor (FHR) since 2011. The Australian government’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has also teamed up with China to contribute materials expertise to the molten salt reactor programme.

The UK should also be looking east for joint nuclear R&D opportunities, which could include molten salts work with China. As it stands however, Britain is missing out, while China and its partners storm ahead and position themselves to corner the global market in advanced nuclear fission technologies.


  1. Dan MacPhail says:

    I contacted my MP about the lack of political will or budget for research in the UK, and the reply from the DECC dismayed me; a miserly total of £17m was earmarked for all nuclear research, it wasn’t clear whether this was annually or for the life of the parliament, but either way it’s a drop in the ocean. If the UK wants to secure a slice of the nuclear pie it will require billions(or at least hundreds of millions) not millions to achieve this.

  2. Paul F. Davis says:

    I am happy to serve China advance its nuclear energy program.

    As a Wellness Trainer and Global Health Coach who serves the U.S. Military, Companies, Cruise Lines at Sea, and Universities across the globe having touched 70 Nations; I wholeheartedly believe nuclear energy is a wise environmental health move for China.

    Paul F. Davis – Author of “The Future of Food” (volumes 1 & 2) and “Geostrategy to Protect Environmental Health & Food Security” who has lived and traveled throughout China.

  3. Colin Megson says:

    We could have a Gen IV IFR operating within a couple of decades, which, after the disposition of our plutonium stockpile, would have enough fuel to chug away for a further 50 or 60 years, generating 622 MW of electricity, for about 90% of the time.

    I sure wish Baroness Worthington would lead a charge in the House of Lords, to get the NDA to make the no-brainer decision to select the GE Hitachi PRISM reactor and get the UK’s nuclear industry on the go again, in a real and meaningful fashion.

    I bet it would do no harm at all to the prospects of even earlier government investment in other Gen IV technologies – MSRs in particular.

  4. Brian Bingham says:

    It is clear that the future belongs to Nuclear and that China will own it.

  5. Basma says:

    1. No.2. I think we might as wll just swim in toxic waste.3. No.4. a35-600 for three sometimes four pepole ($8-960).5. Certainly.6. Yes. Cutting back on one or two luxuries in my life, that will last at best another fifty or sixty years, to protect the planets life, which will last several million more years, is nothing.

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