Chinese nuclear companies look to district heating

14 February 2018

China’s two leading nuclear companies, China General Nuclear (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) are both looking to develop small nuclear reactors for district heating. 

CGN and Tsinghua University are undertaking a feasibility study district heating using domestically-developed NHR200-II low-temperature heating reactor technology. At a recent meeting organised by China's National Energy Administration (NEA), it was agreed that CGN and Tsinghua University should conduct preliminary work on the construction of a demonstration project in China. This would include planning and site selection, land and water use, emergency plans, communication with the public and actively promoting the project. 

Research work in China on the possible application of nuclear heat began in the early 1980s. During 1983-1984, the Institute of Nuclear Energy and Technology (INET) at Tsinghua University used its existing pool-type test reactor to provide space heat for nearby buildings. INET developed both a deep pool type and a vessel type nuclear heating reactor.  The vessel type has been selected for further development. Construction of a 5MWt experimental nuclear heating reactor (NHR5) at INET began in 1986 and was completed in 1989. The larger, demonstration-scale NHR200-II was developed from this.

According to CGN senior vice president Shu Guogang, the NHR200-II low-temperature heating reactor technology is a mature design, which passed a safety review by the National Nuclear Safety Administration in the 1990s, and the design came first in NEA's review of small-scale nuclear reactor technology in 2016.

CGN said that, in addition to electricity generation, the NHR200-II it can be used to provide heat, water and steam for applications including residential heating, industrial process heat and supplying remote areas with energy. It is also flexible to location and can be built near to the end-users. Construction would take only two to three years if done on a mass scale, CGN said.

The Chinese government has made clean-energy heating a priority, CGN noted. Last year, the authorities issued guidance on clean heating in winter in northern China. The NEA released a five-year plan - covering 2017-2021 - highlighting the innovation of clean heating technology and consideration of nuclear heating. 
CGN Chairman He Yu said: "As China's first trial use of nuclear power to generate over 100MW of heating energy, the project will serve as a model for clean-energy heating and is considered an ideal replacement for coal-burning.”
CGN said it would "earnestly carry out the preliminary work for the project, push the project to obtain state approval and start construction as soon as possible, and promote clean heating in the northern region".

Meanwhile, state-owned China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) has already conducted a successful 168-hour trial run in Beijing of a small district heating reactor know as the Yanlong.  CNNC put forward the DHR-400 as an alternative heat supplier for the northern region, with each 400MWt unit able to provide heating to 200,000 urban households. The pool-type design comprises a reactor core immersed in a water-filled tank. It will require CNY1.5bn ($226.7m) in investment, take three years to build and could be plugged directly into existing heating networks. Gu Shenjie, deputy chief engineer with the Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute (SNERDI), part of the State Power Investment Corp (SPIC), said the technology is ready.

“They (CNNC) have supplied heat to their institute and office buildings and have successfully done that for three years,” Gu told Reuters on the sidelines of the INNCH New Nuclear Build Conference in Shanghai last December, adding that commercialisation would be next stage. “I think it’s workable. The parameters are very low, and it’s easy to maintain operations,” he added.

Northern China still uses centralised heating systems, but a district heating reactor in every city could be an ideal solution, said Cheng Huiping, a CNNC technical committee member. In November, Liu Hua, director of China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration, acknowledged the reactor was of “great significance” and could help resolve northern China’s energy and environmental problems. But he also urged CNNC to do its utmost to prove safety and reliability. Gu warned that the approval process would be at least five years, with each project expected to undergo environmental impact and conceptual design assessments.

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