- Feb 14, 2021 4:48 am GMT
Since the 1970s China has been working on ways to economically convert closed coal plants to use nuclear power. The "balance of plant" parts of both are essentially the same: they boil water to make steam, the steam expands to make a turbine spin, the spinning turbine turns an electrical generator. The conversion only requires replacing the coal boiler with a nuclear reactor - although it's not quite as simple as it sounds.
The reactor type deemed best for the conversion, a High-Temperature Gas Reactor (HTGR), uses helium gas to carry heat from the reactor core - and the gas gets very, very hot. So engineers had find a way to transfer heat to the secondary loop to boil water, while managing all the attendant stresses and pressure differentials to avoid leaks.
Now, after decades of hard work, undertaken by a persistent team of true believers, the underfunded project may finally bear fruit. On January 12 fuel was shipped to the completed facility for loading and testing in April, with grid connection scheduled for later this year.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy has been following progress on the HTR-PM with interest. Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) has struggled to re-invigorate a state with deep ties to coal - and what better way than to convert retired coal plants to use a new cleaner fuel? If it delivers on the promise it's showing now, an American HTR-PM could reset the economy of the entire region - not only for generating electricity, but synthesizing hydrogen fuel and even synthetic, carbon-neutral gasoline.
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