China Powers Up the World’s First Commercial Onshore Small Modular Nuclear Reactor

As China bids to become the world leader in nuclear power.
Chris Young
Worlds first small modular nuclear reactor is now operational.Tsinghua University

China connected its first commercial onshore small modular nuclear reactor to its power grid, making it the first country in the world to draw power from such a machine, a report from Bloomberg reveals.

China Huaneng Group Co.'s 200-megawatt unit 1 reactor at Shidao Bay is connected to the grid in the Shandong province. The company is also developing a second reactor, which is scheduled to go into full operation next year following tests.

The 200-megawatt small modular reactor (SMR) is roughly a fifth of the size of China's first proprietary reactor design, called Hualong One. Its small size allows for greater scalability as well as reduced operations and deployment costs.

The new modular nuclear reactor is the world's first pebble-bed modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactor. Instead of heating up water, it heats helium to produce energy. The machine is designed to quickly shut down if an error occurs. 

China will invest $440 billion in nuclear power over the next 15 years

According to Bloomberg, China is the world's largest investor in nuclear power, with estimations suggesting it will pay up to 440 billion dollars towards building new nuclear power plants over the next 15 years, allowing it to overtake the U.S. as the world's top generator of nuclear electricity.

The country is also investing heavily in nuclear fusion, which promises to end our reliance on fossil fuels by mimicking the reaction of the sun and stars on Earth. Recently, China's "artificial sun" reactor, called EAST, reportedly broke a record by running for 101 seconds at a temperature of 216 million° F (120 million° C). 

According to reports last year, other countries, including Romania, in Europe, are also developing SMR's with a view to easing the transition away from fossil fuels. Rolls-Royce is also developing SMRs to help the U.K. meet its climate goals. In a November interview with Interesting Engineering, Coventry University Professor Michael Fitzpatrick explained that SMRs can be used alongside new renewable energy solutions to help stabilize the grid in the future. "SMRs allow you to do a mix where the endpoint is the same. The same ability to meet energy demands, but at different levels of commitment. It's a lower up-front cost, with a shorter build time," he said. For now, China is the only country reaping the substantial benefits of SMRs.

Editor's note 10/01/22: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that China had connected the world's first small modular nuclear reactor. This has been changed.

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