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China has brought its first fourth-generation nuclear reactor online. Located in the southwest suburbs of Beijing, fast neutron reactor has an electrical output of 20 megawatts and was connected to the mains Thursday.
The Chinese Institute of Atomic Energy said that it is the result of more than 20 years of research, the CIAE reported on its website.
China is the eighth country in the world to successfully test a fast reactor and use it to produce power, following the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Japan and India.
China’s first “fourth generation” fast neutron reactor, utilizes technology that aims to reduce the reactor’s consumption of uranium and minimize the production of radioactive waste.
The CIAE maintains that fast neutron reactors have two advantages: reducing uranium consumption and minimizing radiation effects. The consumption issue is important because China’s uranium reserves are limited and the country must import substantial quantities of ore to fuel the ongoing development of its civilian nuclear program.
Experts say that the fourth generation fast neutron reactors consume uranium with an efficiency 60 times greater than that of conventional (pressurized water or "second generation") reactors, while both reducing waste and ensuring that the toxicity of their radioactive byproducts is "only" a few centuries when in the older reactors the radioactivity levels of some of the waste byproducts can remain dangerous for thousands of years.
China, which is heavily investing in nuclear energy to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels like coal and oil, only brought its first nuclear power plant online in 1994 and now, after the March nuclear debacle in Fukushima, is currently the country with the most reactors under construction.