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June 23, 2012

China's current nuclear energy situation

Idaho Samizdat reviews the current nuclear energy situation in China.

The Chinese government reinvigorated its civilian nuclear energy program last week with three major actions.

First, it announced the release of a long awaited safety plan that will result in the lifting of a moratorium on new nuclear reactor projects.

Second, it announced approval of an IPO by China National Nuclear Power (CNNP), the country’s largest reactor developer, to raise the equivalent of US $27.3 billion.

Third, the central government announced a list of seven strategic industry initiatives to counter a sharp down turn in economic growth. One of them is building new nuclear power plants.


CNNP is not basing its IPO is to build new nuclear power stations, with multiple reactors, at least five of them, and within the next decade. It is a first of a kind financial offering for CNNP.

The short list of nuclear reactors that are under construction, and those that are planned, in China represents 77 reactors and 86 Gwe of power. Of that number, two reactors types are most frequently cited for projects planned by China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), the parent firm of China Nuclear National Power.

The CPR-1000. It is a 1,080 MW Gen II+ PWR with a digital control room which has an expected operational life of 60 years.

The reactor is expected to be the leading plant design for domestic use. So far 15 units are under construction and 13 more are planned to be built though not all will be built by CNNP. The standard construction time for a CPR-1000 is reported to be 52 months at a cost of $2,000/Kw. An IPO of $27 billion would buy 10-13 reactors depending on the mix of CPR-1000 and AP1000 units and other cost factors such as grid improvements to bring power to customers.

$5.4 billion of the money from the IPO will pay the 20% upfront money needed to start five multi-reactor power projects previously approved in 2008-2010 for Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Hainan provinces. The projects are currently listed as CPR-1000s or AP1000s.

Indications are that the new nuclear safety plan will force a shift from China’s older versions of its domestic reactors designs, generally designated at Gen II for the profile of their safety features, to Gen II+ and Gen III+ reactor designs. Upgrades to the design of China’s mainstay domestic reactor, the CPR1000, a 1,000 MW PWR, are expected to be included in new starts.

During the moratorium on new starts the Chinese government commissioned the Ling Ao 2 reactor, an “upgraded” Gen II+ CPR-1000 and connected it to the grid bringing total installed capacity to 12 Gwe.

China has ambitious plans for a fleet of its own designs based on the Westinghouse 1,150 MW AP1000. It is working on a 1,400 MW version called the CAP-1400. China’s intellectual property agreements with Westinghouse release it from licensing requirements for designs greater than 1,350 MW.

The new safety plan also pulls the trigger on restart of new construction approvals for fuel cycle facilities including uranium enrichment plants and, potentially, a $15 billion spent fuel reprocessing center to be built in collaboration with Areva.

While China has 86 GWe of planned new nuclear reactor construction on the books, many analysts believe that a more realistic goal that is that by 2020 new output will be in the range of 60-70 GWe.

Xu Yuming, the vice secretary at the China Nuclear Energy Association, said May 17 in a statement resulting from advice to the central government that China will complete 70 GWe by 2020 and have an additional 30 Gwe under construction at that time. He estimated China could have 200 GWe of installed nuclear power by 2030.

The State Nuclear Power Technology Corp (SNPTC), which is a separate entity from state owned firms authorized to build and operate domestic nuclear power plants, is in talks to invest $10 billion in the UK’s Horizon nuclear power project. The funds are not associated with the $27 billion IPO recently announced by CNNC.

Horizon was to have been developed by a consortium of the German firms E.ON and RWE to build up to three reactors at Wylfa and three more at Oldbury. The two firms backed out in April citing cash flow problems.

What makes the idea seem feasible is that SNPTC is the entity in China that is licensing Westinghouse AP1000 reactor technology for domestic and export use. Since the Westinghouse AP1000 is mostly through the UK General Design Assessment, it’s interest in the project seems to be a closer match than might otherwise appear.

The six reactors at the two power station sites could represent $60 billion in new construction and an operational life of 40-60 years.

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