Pebble Bed Modular Reactor


The loading of spherical fuel elements has begun at China's Shidaowan SMR HTR-PM 210 MWe Reactor - a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor) demonstration project. The unit is scheduled to begin operating later this year. The first of the graphite spheres was loaded within the reactor's core on 5 April. In 2005, a prototyping fuel-production facility was constructed at the Institute for Nuclear and New Energy Technology with an annual capacity of 100,000 fuel elements.

Center staff Derry Bigby, Zhang Xiaoping and Norris McDonald at INET, Tsinghua University

Center staff Derry Bigby, Zhang Xiaoping and Norris McDonald at INET, Tsinghua University

Construction of the HTGR fuel-production factory in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, started in 2013. Commissioning and trial production began at the plant in 2015. An irradiation test of five fuel spheres for the HTR-PM started in October 2012 in the High Flux Reactor in Petten, the Netherlands, which was completed in December 2014. 

The Shandong Shidao Bay 200 MWe High-Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor Pebble-Bed Module (HTR-PM) Demonstration Power Plant: An Engineering and Technological Innovation

Status Report 96 - High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor - Pebble-Bed Module (HTR-PM)

- - Update courtesy Harry Degenaar


Center staff landed in Beijing on April 3, 2007 and we were briefed by the staff of Tsinghua University's Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology, High Temperature Reactor (HTR) General Design Division. We were briefed by Dr. Dong Yujie, Director of the HTR Division, Dr. Wang Hong, Associate Professor of the HTR Division and Jiang Yan.

Zhang Xiaoping, Norris McDonald, Derry Bigby and Dr. Wang Hong (PBMR Facility at right in background)

Zhang Xiaoping, Norris McDonald, Derry Bigby and Dr. Wang Hong (PBMR Facility at right in background)


The Center was invited to Tsinghua University by HTR Director Dong Yujie. They presented a comprehensive description of their groundbreaking Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). It is the only operational reactor of this type in the world. In the diagram below helium drives the generators In the Tsinghua research reactor the helium heats water in a secondary loop to produce steam to drive the turbine generators.


China plans to patent its own reactors and PBMR will be one of those technologies. China is also working with Westinghouse to develop another third generation nuclear power plant design


The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor represents an almost entirely new way of using nuclear power to generate electricity. China is leading the way in developing this new Generation Four technology. Center staff received a complete technical briefing by Tsinghua University physicists from the Institute for Nuclear and New Energy Institute (INET). Powerpoint presentations provided us with a comprehensive description of the project. The INET staff then drove us about 40 miles west of Beijing to the actual research reactor. There is a model of the PBMR in the foyer of the reactor building. We toured the control room for the reactor. INET is also developing other projects, including wind, fuel cell and wastewater treatment.

Although we have a policy of not describing security measures at nuclear facilities, let us just say that the measures we observed were unlike any being utilized in the United States.


China is developing a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) for power generation.  The 10-megawatt prototype is called the HTR-10 and is being developed under a research program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.  Most Chinese university rankings place Tsinghua first in China. Tsinghua University’s Nuclear and New Energy Technology Program is also examining the feasibility of using the high temperature gas of a PBMR to crack steam to produce hydrogen, which can serve as fuel for vehicles.  With the exception of South African utility Eskom, this is the only active development of PBMR technology in the world. Norris and Xiaoping are pictured at right in front of the PBMR building.

China intends to commercialize the technology by building 200 MW modular PBMR units for use throughout the country. China plans to build two PBMR nuclear power plants in the coastal city of Weihai, in Shandong province, according to city officials. The two plants will be located in the Rushan and Rongcheng districts of Weihai. The projects are awaiting final approval. China will begin building a new generation pebble-bed nuclear reactor in Weihai with the aim of making the technology commercially viable by 2020.  China plans to quadruple its nuclear generation by building 40 new reactors in the next 15 years.  This plan is insufficient to to meet the electricity needs of China, particularly emission free generation.  The Center believes China needs ten times this number of plants to meet China’s electricity needs and to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   

Dr. Wang Hong, Norris McDonald and Xiaoping

Dr. Wang Hong, Norris McDonald and Xiaoping

The Center will promote a mix of nuclear technologies, including the Advanced Burner Reactor, to meet the electricity needs of mainland China and Hong Kong. China and the United States have signed an agreement that supports the transfer of nuclear technology to China. Westinghouse Electric Company wants to build 4 nuclear power plants in China. The agreement was signed by China's minister for the National Development and Reform Commission and U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.Westinghouse wants to build facilities at Sanmen in Zhejiang Province and at Yangjiang in Guangdong Province. Westinghouse wants the plants up by 2013. Westinghouse wants to build its new AP 1000 nuclear power plant. Shaw Group Inc (Westinghouse's U.S. engineering and construction services contractor) signed a companion agreement with China's State Nuclear Power Technology Company to work out details for the contract and construction.


Dr. Wang Hong, Norris McDonald, Xiaoping, Dr. Dong Yujie (Director), & Derry Bigby

The Center spent two days in Beijing at Tsinghua University to examine the Nuclear and New Energy Technology Program.  We intend to discuss methods to assist in the commercialization of PBMR technology in China and the United States. 


The Tsinghua University design is similar to the layout of a pressurized water reactor (PWR). The South African utility Eskom is designing and planning to build a PBMR based on the design above, which is similar to the boiling water reactor (BWR) design. The pebbles that house the uranium or mixed oxide (MOX) fuel are pictured below. Hundreds of thousands of these pebbles make up the reactor core.

The research reactor is about 50 miles northwest of Beijing near the Tianshou Mountains at the Badaling section of the Great Wall, which is the most popular spot for foreign tourists in China visiting the Wall. You can see part of the Great Wall from the reactor site. The PBMR research site is the white structure to the right and behind Center staff and Dr. Hong in the photo at right..

Center staff, accompanied by Dr. Wang Hong, right, traveled along the Baldaling Highway to the university research site. The site actually includes many different research projects, including a wind farm (photo below), fuel cell research facility and wastewater treatment project.

The Tsinghua team was very gracious and allowed us to look around the entire facility.

Tsinghua is now planning to build a demonstration PBMR near Weifang in Shandong Province. A successful demonstration plant will lead directly to commercialization throughout China. There is still some public concern about nuclear power in China. It is apparent by the distance between Tsinghua University and the research reactor. HTR Division staff did not enthusiastically receive a recommendation from the Center to build a demonstration facility on campus to replace the coal plant that provides heat for the university.

Note the pebbles pictured above. Although this third generation reactor has many improved features, managing the spent pebbles will be a challenge. They might just have to be buried in an appropriate geological repository. We prefer reprocessing of spent uranium because 90 percent of the energy remains in the fuel after initial use.

After passing through security gates at the PBMR facility we observed the model in the foyer and then moved to the security entrance. We put shoe covers on and went to the control room.

Tsinghua will conduct another test of the facility later this year while plans are being made to construct the demonstration plant in Shandong Province.

The Center is recommending that China should build at least 400 reactors over the next twenty years. Although this number sounds very large, we believe China has the unique ability to complete such a project. The reactors should be 1,000 megawatts and they should be constructed underground close to urban centers to reduce transmission losses. This Great Nuclear Wall would provide electricity for 400 million homes. As China continues to grow and develop, this should provide sufficient electrical power for all sectors of the society. The side benefits would be reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction in smog forming gases.

The Tsinghua University INET team gave us a tour of the campus and treated us to marvelous lunches at the faculty cafeterias.

Norris McDonald and Zhang Xiaoping In front of PBMR Research Reactor Building

Norris McDonald and Zhang Xiaoping In front of PBMR Research Reactor Building