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Apart from gas reactors like the Shidaowan HTGR, which use helium to cool, there are also lead, molten-salt or sodium-cooled fast reactors, capable of turning nuclear waste into fuel, and supercritical water-cooled reactors – which directly use water to drive a turbine instead of steam for electricity generation.
Reactors like Shidaowan will be able to produce hydrogen alongside electricity for the grid.
Hydrogen produced by the reactors can be used as fuel, as well as in a variety of industrial applications.
Most hydrogen produced in the world today is made from carbon-based materials and therefore creates carbon dioxide emissions, according to the World Nuclear Association.
However, high temperature reactors can use thermochemical processes to produce zero-carbon hydrogen using water.
While Shidaowan is the world’s first HTGR to enter commercial operation, other Chinese fourth-generation plants may soon be on their way.
In southeast China’s Fujian province, the CNNC-managed Xiapu sodium-cooled fast reactor pilot project is also under construction, and is expected to be connected to the grid by 2025.
Unlike the HTGRs, sodium-cooled fast reactors are able to recycle depleted uranium, allowing the fuel to be reused again.
There are other sodium-cooled reactors in operation in the world, but they are third-generation.
Other fourth-generation nuclear reactor projects are undergoing research and design in the United States, Japan, and Canada, but have yet to begin construction, according to the International Energy Agency.
China has been increasing its nuclear capacity at the highest rate globally. However, as of this year, nuclear power still made up only 5 per cent of China’s energy generation as the country continues to rely on coal, according to the World Nuclear Association.