Westinghouse sees expansion in Chinese nuclear market

Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick told the Platts news service on Feb 12 that his company expects to get contracts for components for 12 new nuclear reactors in China. The firm is building four 1150 MW AP1000 units in China now. Chinese state owned firms have licensed the design and have used the technology to develop 1400 MW and 1700 MW versions. Roderick said China may build as many as 200 new nuclear reactors in the next several decades. A primary driver is to reduce air pollution from coal fired plants which is creating huge problems for China’s major cities.

In addition to imported designs from Westinghouse, two Chinese firms have developed a 1000 MW design called the Hualong One for both domestic use and for exports. China recently announced plans to build one in Argentina.

The Platts report noted that the new orders from China for nuclear reactors will not be for turnkey contracts, but will be for the components to be used in construction of the reactors. The contracts could be worth $600-800 million per reactor according to Westinghouse.

Westinghouse has run into problems with pumps to be installed in the four AP1000s that are under construction. The equipment, provided by Curtis-Wright, experienced problems with over-heating and with the pump bearings. The units had to be shipped back from China to the U.S. to be rebuilt with new parts. The issues with the pumps set back the startup date for the Sanmen-1 and Sanmen-2 reactors now scheduled for early 2016.

China is on the verge of approving the start of new construction of as many as six new reactors all of which are expected to be GEN III+ designs with passive safety features.

Areva is fast approaching the completion of two 1650 MW EPRs and is also in negotiations to build a $15 billion spent fuel reprocessing center to produce MOX fuel.

Bill Gates in China to promote advanced reactor design

The development of an advanced nuclear reactor by TerraPower, which is funded in part by former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, got a potential boost as the software king visited Shanghai, China, last week. The fast reactor is being designed to use depleted uranium as a fuel. The firm expects to bring the design to commercial status in about 10-12 years.

Gates has met with managers of Chinese nuclear firms several times. This is his third trip.  It is his second visit with the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), which is a potential partner with TerraPower.  That firm is also developing a fast reactor based on a similar design approach.  According to English language media reports from China, the specific fast reactor discussed with Gates is expected to be ready in about the same timeframe as the one from TerraPower.

Pebble Bed project makes progress

Separately, China has made rapid progress with a pebble bed design at Shandong and expected to deploy numerous units of a 150 MW design.  According to a 2013 report from NucNet, China has work underway on a $476 million demonstration high-temperature pebble bed modular nuclear reactor (HTR-PM) project, which will form part of what could become China’s largest nuclear facility.

The 200-megawatt Generation-IV Shidaowan nuclear reactor will be in east China’s Shandong Province. Eventually it will be the site of a further 18 units of the same type as well as four 1000MW PWR type reactors.

Construction of the first unit is scheduled to take 50 months, with 18 months for building, 18 months for installation and 14 months for commissioning.

The gas-cooled HTR-PM, which has twin reactor modules of 100 MW each driving a single 200-MW steam turbine, will start generating commercial electricity by the end of 2017 at the earliest and 2020 by the latest.

The reactor, which was developed by the Institute of Nuclear New Energy Technology (INET) at Tsinghua University in Beijing, has passive safety features, meaning it can shut down safely in the event of an emergency without causing core meltdown or significant leakage of radioactive material.

INET said the reactor can be widely used in power generation, cogeneration and high-temperature process heat applications. It can be used for oil refining, heavy oil recovery and in the chemical industry.

An experimental 10-MW HTR-PM at INET went critical in 2000 and was connected to the grid in 2003.

The HTR-PM’s fuel is in the form of graphite balls containing uranium enriched to 8.9 percent uranium-235. Instead of cooling water, the core is bathed in inert helium gas with an outlet temperature of up to 750 °C. However, as a practical matter the reactor will likely be operated with a much lower outlet temperature to avoid problems with materials and to capitalize on the use of the reactor with conventional steam generators to support industrial processes.

The investors in the project are the China Huaneng Group, the China Nuclear Engineering Group Company and Tsinghua University.

An effort to build a Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) in the US with similar design characteristics, and for similar uses, is still in the design phase.

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