China restarts nuclear reactor construction with five new units

There are multiple developments that indicate the post-Fukushima freeze in China’s nuclear energy program is over. Local construction at coastal sites and a growing export effort show the nation’s commitment to commercial nuclear power.

china nuclear plants

According to wire service reports, cited by nuclear industry trade newsletter Dynatom, Secretary-General of the National Development and Reform Commission Lee Park Min said January 4th that China will start building five new nuclear reactors at coastal sites.  A Bloomberg wire service report for January 15 includes a video interview with Joseph Jacobelli, its lead analyst for China’s utilities, on the Chinese announcement.

The Chief Engineer of  the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp (SNPTC), Wang Zhongtang, said January 15th that preliminary work for the CAP1400 demonstration project has been completed. The design is a Chinese extension, without intellectual property restrictions, of the Westinghouse AP1000.

The CAP1400 is waiting for the approval from the State Council. Zongtang also said SNPTC is currently carried out the research on CAP1700 and is planning to start the fourth generation nuclear power technology. He added that two sets of CAP1400s are planned for construction at Weihai City, Shandong (Shidao Bay). It is one of China’s easternmost coastal cities.

China is expected to rapidly expand its nuclear energy electricity generating capacity to 58 Gwe by 2020. The five new projects represent 5 Gwe of new power. China has 22 reactors in operation and 26 under construction. The five new starts are the first since work on new starts was suspended following the Fukushima crisis of 2011. As a result of an internal review, China will only have new starts that are Gen III type designs like the Westinghouse AP1000.

Delays in completion of two Westinghouse AP1000s at the Sanmen project in eastern Zhejiang are attributable to problems with the pumps Zongtang told wire services. He said the plants are now expected to be completed a year late in 2016.

Export plans pushed in multiple countries

China’s Premier Li Leqiang said January 16 that the country will push two of its major nuclear firms to improve their competitiveness in global markets and bid to become leading exporters of nuclear technologies.

Commercial nuclear power is also very important to China to replace coal fired plants which have created huge air pollution problems for major Chinese cities. To get an idea of just how important, consider that the same day PM Li made his remarks about exports, they were echoed by Chinese President Xi Jinping who said that domestic commercial nuclear power is a “cornerstone of China’s national security.”

On the export front, two of China’s nuclear firms have plans to become investors and suppliers of components and expertise to the UK’s Hinkley Point nuclear new build. 

The China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC). and the China General Nuclear Corp (CGN) will take minority equity stakes in the project. At the same time, the Chinese government is pushing the two firms to merge to increase competitiveness overseas. Chinese firms will propose export of the Hualong I, a 1000 MW PWR type reactor designed by Chinese nuclear engineers. 

Separately, the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp (SNPTC) is reported to be proposing its participation in new nuclear projects in Turkey’s third nuclear power project of about 5 GWe and, if a tender emerges, in South Africa’s new build of 10 Gwe. 

CGN is reported to have signed a deal with Romania’s state owned electric utility to build two 700 MW Candu-6 type reactors at Cerandova. While expectations are that SNC Lavalin, which bought AECL’s reactor division in 2011, would be the supplier, there is speculation CGN might try to capitalize on China’s experience with China’s Candu reactors and supply major long lead procurement items directly to the project.

Another Candu type deal is underway with Argentina. China has agreed to assist Argentina to build its fourth nuclear power plant. A financial agreement reported to be worth $2 billion includes credits, materials, and services to build the Atucha III facility at the Atucha nuclear power complex.

China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) will supply technical and logistics support while Nucleoelectrica Argentina, a state-owned company, which will be responsible for the building and operating a 700+ MW CANDU plant.

Like the situation in Romania, while it might be expected that SNC Lavalin would supply or license the Candu 6 technology, CNNC may have its own plans for long lead time procurement items.

Nuclear energy market share in China’s domestic energy plans

At a nuclear power conference held in Beijing January 15, Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association, said China could have 200 Gwe of nuclear power online by 2030. She said that number could grow depending on how successful Chinese firms are with their domestic projects.

Not everything has gone according to plan in China’s nuclear new build. A $6 billion uranium enrichment, conversion, and fuel fabrication plant, the Longwan Industrial Park project, was cancelled in 2013 due to local opposition. It will be built at another location most likely near other uranium facilities in western provinces. China has proposed to build the new facility in an eastern province to reduce transportation costs.

One of the barriers to building inland nuclear power stations is the lack of transportation infrastructure, and industrial fabrication capacity, away from major coastal cities. Also, coastal plants can benefit from delivery of large components by barge over waterways.

Even with massive investments in nuclear power, according to the International Energy Agency, by 2040 China may still be relying on coal for as much as half of its electrical generation needs. See chart below.

china energy forecast

China signed a global warming agreement with U.S. President Obama last year that calls for development and use of zero carbon power generation technologies. 

China’s target to expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20% by 2030 will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 GWe of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030. The White House claims this is more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today.

However, according to a review of the numbers, China’s requirements to comply with the agreement don’t kick in until 2030. Even so China’s government has begun to talk about a cap on coal burning before then.

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