China Nuclear Energy News for 06/14/20

  • Chinese Nuclear Generating Capacity to Double by 2030
  • HTGR at Shandong Delayed
  • CFR600 Advanced Reactor Expected to Complete Construction in 2023
  • China Faces Mixed Futures in the UK
  • Huawei Issues Threaten UK Nuclear New Build

Recent Developments in China’s Commercial Nuclear Power Program

hualong one profile

Hualong One profile, a 1000 MW PWR. Image: IAEA

The Bloomberg Wire Service reported June 1 that while China’s nuclear powered generating capacity will likely double by 2030 to 130 GW, it will miss its goal of having about half that capacity (58 GW) by the end of 2020. That would still amount to 10% of total electricity generated by CO2 emission free sources and future growth in nuclear energy will come at the expense of building some coal-fired plants.

According to the Bloomberg report, Global Data PLC, a market research firm, estimates that China will pass France as the world’s number two generator by 2022 and could claim the top spot by 2026 based on its growth and the disturbing trend in the U.S. of closing perfectly good plants due to the low price of natural gas. Also, the U.S. has no new full size plants scheduled for construction once the twin units at the Vogtle site are completed later this decade.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), China has six 1100 MW Hualong One units, a domestic design, under construction and four ACPR 1000 MW units also being built.

China Nucler Power Map - WNA

Map of China’s nuclear power plants.  Source: World Nuclear Association.

China has not entirely abandoned the construction of new units based on reactor designs from other countries. It has plans to build four Russian 1200 MW VVER, two at Xudabao and two at Tianwan. First concrete at these sites is expected in 2020 or 2021.

HTGR Delayed

Plans to build 20 200 MW HTGR advanced reactors, based on a demonstration unit at Shidao Bay in Sahndong Province, have not materialized despite fact that work began on it in 2012. The design involves two small high temperature gas-cooled units, using pebble bed type HALEU type fuel (8.9% U235), and using helium as the coolant and primary heat transfer medium. The twin reactors are linked to a single turbine.

The HTGR facility was expected to enter revenue service in 2019, but that milestone has been delayed without setting a new date. Separately, a 600 MW fast reactor, the CFR600, is expected to be complete by 2023.

It has been reported by several sources that the high cost of manufacturing the HTGR reactor components and building it are caused, in part, by the need for specialty materials to deal with the high temperatures it generates, and by the usual first-of-a-kind costs of a new design which have contributed to the schedule delay. In any case, China’s ambitious plans to make Shandong Province a showcase for advanced nuclear reactors have been put on hold.

According to English language wire service reports, the president of the China Nuclear Society, Wang Soujun, told a government meeting in Beijing that work is progressing with an plan to complete work on the demonstration unit and to offer the HTGR design for export. The plan is to sell it to utilities which would use the high temperatures of the primary loop to provide process heat for electricity and for industrial steam for heavy industries. The reactor will produce an outlet temperature of 750 C.

China has promoted the HTGR, known as the HTR-PM, as inherently safe. Due to the nature of the pebble bed fuel in a helium gas coolant in the reactor, it can shut down safely in the event of an emergency without a core meltdown or release of radioactivity.

CFR600 Advanced Reactor Expected to be Completed in 2023

Separately, a 600 MW fast reactor, the CFR600, is expected to be complete by 2023. The CFR-600 is a sodium-cooled pool-type fast-neutron nuclear reactor under construction in Xiapu County, Fujian province, China, on Changbiao Island. Work began on building it in 2017.

It is a generation IV demonstration project by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). The project is also known as Xiapu fast reactor pilot project. The reactor will have an output of 1,500 MWth thermal power and 600 MW electric power. A larger commercial-scale reactor, the CFR-1000, is also planned.

According to Word Nuclear News, China, and CNNC expects the fast neutron nuclear reactor type to become predominant by mid-century. The country’s research and development on fast neutron reactors started in 1964.

The CFR600 reactor will use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. It will feature two coolant loops producing steam at 480°C. The reactor will have active and passive shutdown systems and passive decay heat removal.

A commercial-scale unit, the CFR1000, will have a capacity of 1000-1200 MWe. Subject to a 2020 decision to proceed, construction could start in December 2028, with operation slated for 2034.

China Faces Mixed Futures in the UK

China’s effort to export its nuclear energy expertise to the West took a major step forward in late May as China General Nuclear (CGN) joined with France’s EDF in presenting an application to the UK government to build twin 1600 MW EPRs at the UK’s Sizewell C site. The project is expected to cost $20 billion according to some early estimates. Ground breaking is expected in 2021. CGN is taking a 20% equity stake in the project.

China has also taken a 33% equity stake in a similar project in the UK which is the construction of twin 1600 MW EPRs at the Hinkley Point C project. That construction effort is underway. Taken together the two projects, when completed, will provide 14% of all the electricity generated in the UK.

From an economic development perspective, the projects are hugely popular due to the enormous number of construction and permanent jobs to be created at each site and through the supply chains for both projects. EDF has estimated that the cumulative employment created is 25,000 jobs.

All this economic activity has collided with a demand by China that the UK government, headed by PM Boris Johnson, not block the efforts of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to build 5G wireless networks in the UK. National security concerns have fueled opposition in Parliament. Members of Johnson’s Conservative Party want to block CGN from participating in the Sizewell C. project.

MP Dunan Smith was widely quoted in news media reports as saying that the UK should not be overly dependent on China for major infrastructure projects. He urged the government to tighten foreign investment rules.

In the U.S. the government placed China General Nuclear on a “blacklist.” for stealing U.S. nuclear technology. In 2018 federal prosecutors secured guilty pleas from several former TVA nuclear engineers who sold U.S. nuclear intellectual property to CGN. One was sentenced to two years in jail and another, who turned states’ evidence, got probation.

Huawei Issues Threaten UK Nuclear New Build

5G TowerChina’s growing presence in the UK nuclear new build could come to screeching halt over a dispute involving an unrelated plan for the UK to buy 5G wireless networks from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

The Chinese government issued a statement on June 1 that UK PM Boris Johnson’s consideration of a plan to cancel contracting with Huawei to build the networks could result in China pulling the plug on its plans to fund and build nuclear power plants at the Sizewell and Bradwell sites and the HS2 high speed rail line.

Johnson’s government has been spooked by reports that the Huawei might be able to spy on sensitive business and government telecommunications traffic once the network was built. Based on these concerns, Australia and Japan have already canceled their contracts with Huawei for this reason.

The U.S. went a step further in its dealing with Huawei creating a world class diplomatic dust up in the process. It arranged for the arrest in Canada in 2018, to hold for extradition, of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer (and daughter of its founder), for doing business with Iran in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

In parallel actions, the U.S. federal government has pushed U.S. wireless providers to ditch contracts with Huawei for this alleged violation and also over allegations that the firm is a cybersecurity threat.

The Chinese government is more than just annoyed by these developments and said it might pull the plug on the Sizewell investment and Bradwell project and the rail line if PM Johnson does not stand up to members of his own party who want Huawei kicked out of the UK.

As a practical matter a lot of this is posturing as CGN is deeply invested in the Hinkley C and Sizewell C projects and desperately wants to build a Hualong One in a western country to prove its value for exports. The Bradwell site is the first and only opportunity so far to do that as plans for building one in Argentina have ground to a halt due to the terrible state of Argentina’s finances.

Push back by some members of the UK Parliament to stop te Huawei contract on cybersecurity grounds may be cloaking an effort by other wireless firms, and not just some in the UK, to get the Chinese firm out of the picture so that they can build the UK’s 5G networks. Separately, a bizarre string of arson attacks on 5G towers in the UK have been fueled by online conspiracy theories that the telecommunications signals are the cause of the corona virus pandemic.

The U.S. actions against Huawei are part of President Trump’s ill-advised trade wars with China which have extended from telecommunications to computer ship manufacturing and to farm products. American consumers have paid the price for these actions due to the high tariffs the Trump administration has imposed on Chinese imports.

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