China Ramps Up New Nuclear Reactor Construction

  • China expands nuclear new build; 6-8 new starts a year for next five years
  • China in dual disputes with UK that could impact its export plans there
  • China nuclear energy by the numbers

Other Nuclear News

  • Westinghouse Program Awarded £10m From UK Government for Advanced Modular Reactor Project
  • BWXT Gets TRISO Fuel Contract for Idaho National Laboratory

Media reports: China will to start construction of six-to-eight plants a year for the next five years

(See tables below – China’s nuclear program by the numbers)

The Reuter wires service reports, based on a news item in the official China Daily, and quoting the China Nuclear Energy Association, that China will build six to eight nuclear reactors a year between 2020 and 2025 and raise total capacity to 70 gigawatts (GW).

The China Nuclear Energy Association said the country’s total installed nuclear capacity is expected to be at 52 GW by the end of 2020, but which falls short of a 58 GW target.

China Nucler Power Map - WNA

By the end of the decade, China could have over 80 Gwe of nuclear power generating capacity. If it continues this pace, it could have 200 GWe by the mid-2030s according to the China Nuclear Association.

Some assumptions about the impact of this aggressive new build include the staffing profile for China’s conventional full size light water reactors is similar to global averages of about 500-700 staff for a 1000 MW reactor. Each plant would require 700 operators, skilled trades, and support staff. Construction of each 1000 MW unit will take 3-4 years and require up to 5,000 workers per project.

A world record amount of concrete and steel will be needed for the projects. Suppliers of these materials will be stressed to keep up with the demand.

In addition to the enormous number of people who will be involved in the construction and operations of the reactors, the demand on the nation’s nuclear supply chain will be very significant especially for long lead time components like reactor pressure vessels, steam generators, main cooling/circulation pumps, turbines, and switchyard gear.

China’s regulatory safety agency will have to ramp up technical staffing to review the licensing applications for these units and to conduct safety inspections as the plants are being built and once they are in operations.

Production of commercial grade nuclear fuel will increase substantially, and will be sustained over time, e.g., the 40-60 year service lives of all these units.

Eventually, China will have to come to terms with a vast increase in the tonnage of spent nuclear fuel. China has been negotiating with EDF/France for construction of an 800 tonne/year spent fuel reprocessing plant. However, given China’s current inventory, and the future inventory of spent fuel that it will accumulate, both interim and permanent storage sites will be needed to accommodate this material.

Tables – China Nuclear by the Numbers

These tables list China’s operating reactors and the plants which are under construction or approved for construction. China has not yet announced which of its future planned reactors will be approved for construction under the new push for starting 6-8 units a year. Also, some of the reactors approved for construction have not yet broken ground.

Note: These tables rely on data from the World Nuclear Association and the IAEA.  Readers who want to do their own analysis can download the NeutronBytes spreadsheet 

China’s Dueling Disputes with UK
Could Impact its Export Plans

Reuters reports that China and the UK are in serious diplomatic disputes due to PM Boris Johnson’s offer for up to three million Hong Kong citizens have the right to live and work in the UK. The offer is seen by some as mere political posturing since the relocation of three million people to the UK is a major logistical challenge and a long term financial commitment.

Also, Johnson is reported to be leaning towards banning equipment made by China’s Huawei Technologies from British 5G mobile networks. This issue is separate from Hong Kong as other UK and EU telcom firms are lobbying for the contracts.

Where the rubber meets the road is that China has made significant financial and program commitments to the UK nuclear new build with equity investments at the Hinkley Point C and Sizwell C projects. In return, China is expected to seek to build two or more 1000 MW Hualong One PWRs at the Bradwell site.

CTHD Michelle Yeoh 1

All of these plans are now at risk because of the current disputes which have nothing to do with the nuclear projects themselves. Also, most nations regard trade deals as one-offs separate from their diplomatic differences. The 5G telcom dispute creates a knot of linked issues. The two countries’ collaboration on nuclear power stations could hit the rocks if China gets serious about its protests.

Reuters notes that China General Nuclear Power (CGN) holds a 30% equity stake in the 20 billion pound Hinkley Point C power station in the west of England. The state-owned Chinese group also has an option to acquire 20% of the Sizewell C project in Suffolk. Both projects are building dual 1650 MW EPRs.  China has already built and commission two of these giant plants and has crucial experience to help the UK keep its efforts on schedule and within budget.

The projects are also crucial to Britain’s ambition to decarbonize its energy supply by replacing the fifth of electricity provided by ageing, soon-to-be-decommissioned nuclear plants.

China desperately wants all of its UK nuclear projects to succeed to drive future export sales to other countries. For this reason, China may huff and puff, but in the end may stay the course in the UK. The UK would prefer that China not pursue a linkage with the 5G telcom issue.

Westinghouse Awarded £10m From UK Government
for Advanced Modular Reactor Project

Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) announced their Lead-cooled Fast Reactor (LFR)  program has successfully progressed to Phase 2 of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Feasibility and Development project. It is receiving £10m ($12.5m) in funding from the BEIS Energy Innovation Portfolio.


Conceptual diagram: WEC LFT: Image: WEC

As part of Phase 2, Westinghouse, in collaboration with industry, research centers and academic partners, will utilize the funding to undertake applied research and development activities. The award will be used to demonstrate LFR components and accelerate the development of high-temperature materials, advanced manufacturing technologies and modular construction strategies for the LFR.

“Our progression to Phase 2 builds on our eighty-year history in the UK as a Strategic National Asset,” said Patrick Fragman, Westinghouse president and chief executive officer.

Westinghouse claims that its LFR, a 450 MWe-class Generation IV reactor design, has the potential to have a transformative effect on the cost and market flexibility of new nuclear. The key features of the Westinghouse LFR include a simplified design, flexible operations and fuel cycle capabilities, zero CO2 emissions, walk-away safety features and modular assembly. The  firm also claims that its LFR will also achieve a competitive Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCoE) to ensure economic competitiveness in the most challenging global electricity markets. (Fact sheet – PDFfile)

Westinghouse will deliver the Phase 2 program in collaboration with Ansaldo Nucleare and ENEA, in addition to Bangor University, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, Jacobs, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC), the University of Cambridge, the University of Manchester and Vacuum Process Engineering, Inc. (VPE).

Overall the UK government is spending £40 million to kick start next-gen nuclear technology. £30 million of funding will speed up the development of 3 AMR projects in Oxfordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire and drive them closer towards supplying low-carbon energy to the nation. The remaining £10 million will be invested into unlocking smaller research, design, and manufacturing projects to create up to 200 jobs.

BWXT Gets TRISO Fuel Contract for Work
at the Idaho National Laboratory

This $26 million, 20-month contract award will both expand BWXT’s TRISO capacity for the manufacture of TRISO fuel compacts as well as upgrade existing systems for delivering production-scale quantities of TRISO fuel. Restart activities will be finalized in the fall of this year.

At a later date, BWXT anticipates potential awards for additional contract options that would enable the fabrication and delivery of the fuel in support of future game-changing missions for both the Department of Defense and NASA.

This project is an effort jointly funded by the Department of Defense’s Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement Fund (OECIF) Office and NASA, with overall program management provided by the Strategic Capabilities Office.

TRISO refers to a specific design of uranium nuclear reactor fuel. TRISO is a shortened form of the term TRIstructural-ISOtropic. TRIstructural refers to the layers of coatings surrounding the uranium fuel, and ISOtropic refers to the coatings having uniform materials characteristics in all directions so that fission products are essentially retained.


BWXT is the only U.S. company to manufacture irradiation-tested uranium oxycarbide TRISO fuel using production-scale equipment.

BWXT already has the required safety, security, quality, material accountability, and operational systems needed to execute this work.  The firm performs TRISO work at its Nuclear Operations Group-Lynchburg facility.

BWXT said in a press statement that its existing infrastructure would contribute to far lower initial costs as compared to setting up a new facility, and it will not significantly increase current decontamination and decommissioning liabilities.

TRISO production with HALEU requires at least an NRC Category 2 license, which can take several years and substantial investment to obtain. BWXT currently has the only private Category 1 licenses in the U.S., and they can also be utilized to produce Category 2 material.

Its TRISO production facility is currently licensed to produce this type of High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel, which is undergoing validation in a series of experiments at Idaho National Laboratory at their Advanced Test Reactor under the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor program. BWXT has worked with the DOE in support of TRISO-based fuel development and qualification for more than 15 years.

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