Amec and China Nuclear Engineering sign generation IV reactor deal

UK engineer Amec Foster Wheeler has signed what it describes as a "wide-ranging agreement" with China Nuclear Engineering & Construction (CNEC). The two agreed a memorandum of understanding in Beijing yesterday, laying the ground for future collaboration on high-temperature reactors.

In particular, Amec will be working on CNEC’s high-temperature helium-cooled pebble bed reactor, known as the HTR-PM.

An Amec spokesperson told GCR that it was not disclosing any details of its financial arrangements with CNEC, however he said: "The signing of the agreement shows that Amec Foster Wheeler’s gas reactor experience is well recognised and that we are well-placed to help CNEC to deploy the HTR-PM design globally."

Tom Jones, vice president of Amec Foster Wheeler’s Clean Energy business, said in a statement: "High-temperature reactors have great potential to provide safe, clean and sustainable energy for the future. We hope that our collaboration with CNEC will help the UK and China to realise the potential benefits of this tremendously important technology."

Zu Bin, the vice president of CNEC, said: "The high-temperature gas cooled reactor is inherently safe and can generate electricity efficiently and competitively for power generation, heat supply and desalination."

The spokesperson said there were no specific targets in the agreement. "It’s saying that if opportunities crystalise then we’d hope to have a more detailed agreement to taken them forward," he said. "It’s potential collaboration."

He added that Amec would be looking to help CNEC operate in markets outside China, and ultimately to gain UK regulatory approval for its design when they are eventually put forward, sometime in the 2020s.

He said: "Chinese firms have to go through the same regulatory processes as everybody else and the UK is different to many countries in that it’s not a box-ticking exercise. It’s up to the operator to persuade the regulator that their design is safe, which is different to the US approach, for example."

More immediately, Amec and CNEC will look to work together to develop opportunities in development, construction, operation and decommissioning projects globally.

They will also identify specialist knowledge that each can contribute towards reactor management, lifetime extension and the upgrading of existing units. The scope of the agreement also covers training, waste management and decommissioning.

It is expected that CNEC will make use of Amec Foster Wheeler’s new High-Temperature Facility in the UK, which will carry out research and testing on materials capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 1,000°C.

Generation IV

Work on a demonstration model of China’s pebble bed, helium cooled reactor has been under way since 2012 on a site owned by state electricity supplier Huaneng Group. Huaneng is working with CNEC and Tsinghua University’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy to develop the reactor.

According to World Nuclear News, the demonstration plant’s twin HTR-PM units will drive a single 210MW turbine, and is expected to start commercial operation in late 2017. Eighteen further units are proposed for the site, which is near Rongcheng in Weihai city, about 400km southeast of Tianjin.

The reactor has been put forward as a good design for thermal uses such as desalination and the production of hydrogen for automobiles.

HTR-PM is among a number of generation IV designs. These aim to remedy some of the difficulties encountered in previous reactors, such as low efficiency, questionable safety and the hugely expensive waste disposal bill.

Work on future designs is being coordinated by the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), a group that was initiated in 2000, and brings together America, Canada, China, the EU’s Euratom organisation, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea, South Africa and Switzerland.  

GIF members have agreed to concentrate on six candidate designs, of which four are high or very high temperature models.

Top photograph: The agreement is signed by Armand Kirk, strategic development director of Amec Foster Wheeler Clean Energy, and Deng Xiaoliang, director of the International Cooperation Department of CNEC (Amec)

[This version was edited on 8 April to add details about the HTR-PM.]

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