China wins the small nuclear race
First true small modular reactor connected to grid, leaving America behind
China is proving its leadership in nuclear energy by connecting the first true small modular reactor (SMR) to its national grid. Named Linglong One, the SMR is a 100MW reactor located at the Changjiang power plant in Hainan. This follows China’s first 200MW pebble-bed reactor in 2021.
Linglong One is the result of more than a decade of research and development by China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), the state-owned nuclear giant that operates most of China’s nuclear power plants. CNNC claims that Linglong One is the world’s most advanced SMR, with features such as passive safety systems, high thermal efficiency, low construction and operation costs, and high scalability and flexibility.
Linglong One is also the first SMR to be mass-produced and exported by China, as part of its ambitious plan to expand its nuclear energy market and influence. “We are very proud of Linglong One, which is a breakthrough for China and the world. Linglong One will be the blueprint for many more mass-produced SMRs, ensuring China’s clean energy security for the future,” said Zhang Wei, the project director of Linglong One, in a press conference.
Meanwhile, the United States is lagging behind in the race to develop and deploy SMRs, despite having several projects in the pipeline. One of the most promising small modular designs in America is NuScale Power’s 60MW SMR, which is the first and only SMR to receive design approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in August 2020. However, NuScale has faced several delays and challenges in building its first SMR plant, which is expected to be completed by 2027 at the earliest.
American small modular reactors suffer from a lack of funding, public opposition to anything nuclear, and a complex regulatory environment. But the real reason for slow progress is competition from other energy sources, such as natural gas and solar power, which are cheap and easy to deploy.
The SMR revolution may have started in America, but it seems that China has taken the lead and is not willing to give it up. The question is: can the US catch up and reclaim its nuclear supremacy, or will it have to accept China’s dominance in the small nuclear market?
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