China wants to build hybrid fusion-fission reactor by 2030

Joint Sino-French Taishan Nuclear Power Station being built outside Taishan City in Guandong province © Peter Parks
China is going to build its first hybrid fusion-fission reactor by 2030, according to local media reports. The reactor is expected to recycle nuclear waste making energy production more environmentally friendly.

The ambitious plan is in the works at the top secret Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics in Sichuan, where China develops its nuclear weapons, China Daily Mail reports. The plans were announced in a study published in the Science and Technology Daily, an official newspaper of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The experimental research platform will be built by 2020 while the whole system could be launched by 2030, said Huang Hongwen, the deputy project manager, China Daily Mail reported Saturday.

Researchers believe that hybrid reactors will generate twice as much electricity as modern reactors. These reactors are also believed to be safer as they can be immediately stopped by cutting the external power supply.

Today reactors use only fission technology which means dividing atoms in half while future fusion-fission technology will merge two atoms in one. The core of the new hybrid reactor will be a fusion reactor which will be powered by a 60 trillion amperes fission reactor.

The basic principle of the hybrid reactor is recycling uranium-238, which is the main component of nuclear waste, into new fuel. Such a reactor will become a breakthrough in environmentally friendly technologies and in particular a solution of nuclear wastes problem for China, who lacks recycling facilities and has to store the waste inside nuclear energy plants.

Hybrid fusion-fission reactors can also solve another vital problem for China – uranium shortages. According to the study China can meet its uranium demands for only a century, while using fusion-fission technologies will provide it with uranium for several thousand years.

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Some scientists have doubts over whether Chinese plans are realistic. “A viable fusion reactor is nowhere in sight, not to mention a hybrid,” an unnamed physicist from Tsinghua University told the SCMP.

“It’s like talking about hybrid cars before the internal combustion engine was even invented. We will be lucky to have the first fusion reactor in 50 years. I don’t think a hybrid can be built way before that”, he added.

China is not the only country which has tried to create a hybrid fusion-fission reactor. Similar projects are being developed in Russia, Japan, the EU and the USA. China, however, is the first country to have planned exact dates.