Chinese fast reactor begins high-power operation

19 February 2021

The China Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) has been restarted and reconnected to the grid, marking its entry into its high-power operation phase. The sodium-cooled, pool-type fast reactor began a refuelling and maintenance outage at the end of July last year, having completed commissioning tests for the power test phase of the reactor, which verified that its performance had met the design requirements under stable conditions and expected transient operating conditions.

Workers in the control of the CEFR (Image: CIAE)

The China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIEA) said the CEFR had started its second operating cycle on 19 January and had been reconnected to the grid on 15 February. It said the high-power operation of CEFR is "an important way to master fast reactor technology and cultivate talents".

The CEFR was constructed near Beijing with Russian assistance at CIEA, which undertakes fundamental research on nuclear science and technology. The reactor has a thermal capacity of 65 MW and can produce 20 MW in electrical power. The CEFR was built by Russia's OKBM Afrikantov in collaboration with OKB Gidropress, NIKIET and the Kurchatov Institute.

First concrete for the CEFR was poured in May 2000. The reactor achieved first criticality in July 2010 and was connected to the grid at 40% capacity a year later. Since then, various commissioning tests on the reactor, the turbines and of the sodium pumping system have been carried out at increasing power output levels. Materials and fuel irradiation tests have also been conducted over this period. CEFR achieved its design goal of 72 hours at full power in 2014.

Following the earlier completion of low-power tests and nominal power tests, CEFR was restarted on 19 June last year for high-power operations. Over the subsequent 40 days of operation, a number of tests were completed, including a dynamic test of the steam turbine digital electro-hydraulic control system, a 75% power turbine load rejection test and a cold start power-flow measurement test. The reactor then entered a refuelling and maintenance outage.

China's fast reactor development has implemented a three-step strategy, namely going from an experimental fast reactor, to a demonstration fast reactor, to a commercial fast reactor.

Based on the CEFR, a 600 MWe design - the CFR-600 - was developed by the CIEA. Construction of a demonstration unit in Xiapu County, in China's Fujian province began in December 2017. This will have a power output of 1500 MWt and 600 MWe. The reactor will use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel with 100 GWd/t burnup, and will feature two coolant loops producing steam at 480°C. Later fuel will be metal with burnup of 100-120 GWd/t. The reactor will have active and passive shutdown systems and passive decay heat removal. Construction of a second CFR-600 unit at the Xiapu site began in December 2020.

A commercial-scale unit - the CFR1000 - will have a capacity of 1000-1200 MWe. Subject to a decision to proceed, construction could start in December 2028, with operation from about 2034. That design will use metal fuel and 120-150 GWd/t burnup.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News