The China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) announced on 9 October that China's first lead-bismuth alloy zero-power reactor - Qixing (Venus) III – had achieved first criticality, marking the start of key experiments into liquid metal cooled fast reactors. CIAE said R&D into lead-bismuth fast reactor has now "entered the engineering stage from the physical basic research stage” and a series of tests will be carried out to obtain data on the core parameters that can be used in the development of lead-bismuth fast reactor designs. "The reactor is aimed at the key and difficult problems in the engineering of a lead-bismuth fast reactor," CIAE said. "The interaction mode of nuclear fuel and lead-bismuth alloy coolant material is accurately constructed in large-size lead-bismuth alloy coolant material, and the core physical properties of a lead-bismuth reactor are more accurately simulated."
Lead-bismuth fast reactors can be designed as large-scale power plants, with a capacity of up to 1000 MWe, or as small modular units with a capacity of just a few megawatts. The small units could be used offshore oil exploration platforms, the development of islands, providing power to remote areas or to supply power to large data centres.
CIAE is the only centre in China working on the development of liquid metal cooled fast reactors. In July 2005, China's first fast thermal-coupled accelerator-driven system (ADS) sub-critical reactor - Venus I - was built at CIAE. In December 2016, China's first lead-based double-core zero-power device - Venus II - achieved first criticality at CIAE. Venus III took almost two years to complete. The zero-power ADS transmutation system - developed by CIAE and the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Modern Physics - will be used for research into transforming long-lived radioactive waste into short-lived waste.
Russia has considerable experience with small lead-bismuth-cooled (LBC) reactors which were used to power submarines. Altogether 15 reactors at two ground facility-prototypes (Institute of Physics and Power Engineering in Obninsk and AP Aleksandrov Scientific Research Technological Institute in Sosnovy Bor) and eight nuclear submarines with LBC cooled RFs were in operation. The first experimental submarine in Project 645 had two reactors. Each of the other seven submarines in Project 705 had one reactor. The total operating time of this type of reactor facility in all modes was about 80 reactor-years. Russia is now developing a small modular LBC fast reactor, the SVBR-100 at the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors in Dimitrovgrad.