PBMR – the Meltdown-Proof Nuclear Power Option is already here?

Reminded of this due to twitter exchanges with several quite different people on new nuclear power options – partly the problems dogging EDF at Hinkley, partly the stay of decommissioning (but need for replacement) at Hartlepool (also operated by EDF these days), and initially because I had some involvement some years ago with Chinergy / Tsinghua / PBMR. This is the most advanced commercial scale PBMR, an “HTR-PM” – almost complete and due for start up as soon as next year in WeiHai, RongCheng Bay, China.

PBMR is not new at demonstrator scale, shelved because no-one took it up a commercial scale previously, and paused whilst the world took a deep breath over Fukushima Daiichi. But the point is, like all AGCR’s it is passively / intrinsically safer than liquid (water / molten salt / sodium) reactors AND specifically smaller and modular, reducing many other kinds of risk, commercial and political, as well as technical, safety, sustainability and environmental. Start small, add more later with confidence, in fact, just like the first commercial installation above has 2 x ~100MW HTR-PM’s going in now with an additional 18 planned in future.)



AGCR = Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor – there are many different designs in various stages and scales of development around the world – including Russia. All designed as 4th Gen alternatives to the 3rd Gen PWR / EPR’s like those causing problems in European projects, including Hinkley C, right now.

PBMR = Pebble-Bed Modular Reactor – a specific AGCR variant originally South-African / German design. Key thing is pebble-bed is well proven furnace technology in other industries (where I’ve also been involved directly) and inherently safe (just switch off and allow to cool).

(Thorium is the other fashionable new option, and in fact is one of the other 4th Gen AGCR designs, so is another viable option, but just not quite as close to full commercial start-up. Not even sure if Thorium couldn’t be substituted for Uranium in an evolved PBMR design, but the point is the PBMR future is now here. Sustainability also involves having evolutionary exit ramps of course.)


[Post Note – Why not just go with a molten-salt reactor?

Another intrinsically safe design, with emphasis on the density and energy density and consequent thermal efficiencies compared to Helium cooled AGCR’s. Not sure thermal efficiency is a big deal for nuclear if overall compactness of design and build is achievable, and not sure we want proliferation of fast breeder designs with other nuclear weapon product possibilities. Still with details to be developed & proven? Part of a future mix with international controls, but maybe not the mass option? Not yet anyway. Unprejudiced dialogue and a balanced mixed portfolio is the key need.]

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