China: The next few years are crucial for nuclear industry growth31 July 2013
The Fukushima accident impacted mainland China significantly; its reactor construction programme was delayed for 18 months and major new initiatives were launched to enhance reactor safety and oversight
However, despite the post-Fukushima delays, China's target for installed capacity by 2020 is still 58 GWe, which is a remarkable increase, but substantiallyless than was previously expected. The government still views nuclear energy as an important element of the country's energy mix and foresees the construction of many more reactors over the coming decades. As of April 2013, there are 16 reactors operating in China with a total of nearly 13 GWe net electric and another 29 units (~30 GWe net) under construction.
The 2012 inspection report required civilian nuclear facilities to phase-in safety improvements in 16 areas by 2015. By the end of 2012, all facilities were required to finish improvements, including deploying mobile backup emergency power systems, portable pumps, and capability to respond earthquake and flood. By the end of 2013, all facilities are required to finish improvements, including hydrogen mitigation equipment, increasing safety margins to respond to natural disasters and incidents such as earthquakes, flooding and blackout incidents, and setting up new and improved severe incident mitigation plans and periodic emergency response drill activities. By the end of 2015, all facilities are required to research and implement probabilistic safety analysis for external events.
Three reactors started construction in China in the last quarter of 2012 after the resumption of government approvals. This includes China National Nuclear Corporation's Fuqing 4, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation's Yangjiang 4, and the Shandong Shidaowan HTR-PM project (high-temperature gas-cooled reactor). As of April 2013, another two projects moved forward, CNNC's Tianwan 3 and CGNPC's Yangjiang 5. It is worth mentioning that Yangjiang 5 will begin official construction later this year based on CGNPC's Generation III ACPR-1000 reactor design. This advanced CRP-1000 reactor, with full Chinese intellectual property rights, is a three-loop design, and includes a core-catcher and double containment.
The new Chinese nuclear safety plan outlines a rapid shift from Generation II+ to Generation III technologies. From now until 2016 (that is, the 12th Five Year Plan), only domestic Generation III, Generation IV, imported reactor designs, and very few Generation II+ units will be built. Beyond 2016, only Generation III technology has the chance for deployment.
In 2013, a small number of additional projects should start construction, including several more AP1000 units. There could be delays with the start of construction of China's Generation III AP1000-derived CAP1400 demonstration project, since construction was originally scheduled to start in April 2014. Still, this project would represent a very important step for the success of China's localization of Generation III technology. Also, this project could also open the way for the participation of China in overseas reactor projects.
Furthermore, with the support of several international partners, China is making progress in localizing the manufacturing of various Generation III reactor components. These include not only the manufacturing of heavy components, but also of other critical equipment, such as instrumentation and control technology. Importantly, the delay in reactor construction after Fukushima has provided manufacturers in China time to improve their capabilities, which in some cases may now allow for component exports.
Meanwhile, the main nuclear utilities are actively seeking overseas investment opportunities to make use of their financial resources. These finances are being supported by major IPOs, which should increase both CNNC and CGNPC's investment capabilities.
The next couple of years will be crucial for China's nuclear industry to grow domestically and also begin to participate in international projects. Ultimately, the two-year period after Fukushima may be seen as a critical time for China's nuclear industry that has allowed it to enhance domestic safety regulations as well as improve capabilities in terms of human resources, construction, manufacturing, and quality assurance. For China, this is the silver lining in the cloud of Fukushima.
-Yun Zhou, Ux Consulting. Ux Consulting (www.uxc.com) has published in-depth reports on China's nuclear industry and continuously tracks important developments.