China’s nuclear growth

12 June 2014

Over the next two years, many more new reactors are expected to start up in China, doubling nuclear capacity from today’s levels. Although its nuclear new-build programme remains vastly larger than anywhere else in the world, nuclear capacity growth is expected to diminish in the 2020s. By Ian Hore-Lacy and Stephen Tarlton

With the startup of Ningde 2 in January 2014, the number of operational nuclear reactors in mainland China reached 20, with a combined net capacity of almost 17 GWe (see Table 1). By the end of 2014, the number of reactors in the country is expected reach 30, bringing the total nuclear capacity to around 27 GWe. In 2015, capacity should reach 36 GWe, as a further eight reactors are brought online. This impressive growth comes in spite of a slowdown in nuclear power construction that followed the March 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan.

In response to the accident, China's State Council decided to halt approvals and licensing of new reactors until a safety plan was in place and there was assurance that existing plants were adequately designed, sited, protected and managed. Work was also suspended on four units that had been approved (Fuqing 4-6 and Yangjiang 4) and were due to start construction in 2011. The Shidaowan HTR-PM demonstration project, although ready for first concrete, was also delayed.

Power generation continued at reactors in operation at the time of the accident, and construction continued at 25 approved units where work had started.

"China's nuclear capacity target for 2020 is now 58 GWe in operation with 30 GWe under construction"

In October 2012, the government outlined a modified approach to nuclear power construction and it resumed the approvals process for new plants. "China will invest more in nuclear power technological innovations, promote application of advanced technology, improve the equipment level, and attach great importance to personnel training," the State Council's white paper on the country's energy policy read.

In the near term the rate of new approvals is likely to slow down, because of a government decision to approve only coastal sites before the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015). Previously, a large number of inland projects had been expected to start construction before the end of 2015 (see Table 3). Furthermore, China is focusing on third-generation technologies and this is likely to result in fewer new reactors being approved until these technologies are established.

The nuclear capacity target for 2020 is now 58 GWe in operation with 30 GWe under construction. This represents a significant proportion of the projected global new nuclear capacity over this period. But within China itself, nuclear generation plays a relatively minor part in the country's energy mix.

Coal is king in China

By far the biggest contributor to China's electricity generation is coal. According to figures from the International Energy Agency, in 2011 a total of 4755 TWh was generated in China, 79% (3751 TWh) of which was from coal. Most of the remainder came from hydropower, which accounted for 15% (699 TWh) of generation in that year. The 86 TWh generated by nuclear in 2011 represents only 1.8% of the total.

At the end of 2012, installed generating capacity in mainland China reached 1145 GWe, an increase of 19% in two years. Coal accounted for 59% of the new capacity in that year. Nuclear power contributed 2.0% (98 TWh) of the total year's production, according to the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA). Capacity growth is expected to slow in the future, so that installed capacity will reach about 1600 GWe in 2020, and 2000 GWe in 2025.

"In 2005, China overtook the USA as the world's largest contributor to CO2 emissions"

Rapid growth in electricity demand has given rise to power shortages, and the reliance on fossil fuels has led to much air pollution. Chronic and widespread smog in the east of the country is attributed to coal burning. In 2005, China overtook the USA as the world's largest contributor to CO2 emissions and in 2012 it produced 9.64 billion tonnes of CO2. It contributed about 70% of the world total increase in emissions that year.
Most reserves of coal are in the north or northwest and present an enormous logistical problem because demand is elsewhere. Nearly half the country's rail capacity is used for transporting coal.

Despite only accounting for 2% of generation, nuclear power has an important role, especially in the coastal areas remote from the coal fields and where the economy is developing rapidly. Generally, nuclear plants can be built close to these centres of demand, whereas suitable wind and hydro sites are remote from demand.

Nuclear development

The first two nuclear power plants in mainland China were at Daya Bay near Hong Kong, and Qinshan, south of Shanghai in Zhejiang province. Construction started in the mid-1980s. The Daya Bay reactors, supplied by Framatome and designated M310, are the forerunner of the CPR-1000 design - the design of many of the reactors currently under construction in China (see Table 2). The 300 MWe single-loop reactor at Qinshan was being developed into the three-loop CNP-1000 design, but in 2007 it was decided to indefinitely suspend the development of CNP-1000. A two-loop version, CNP-600, continues to be deployed.

China's concerted nuclear expansion began with the National Development and Reform Commission's (NDRC's) Tenth Economic Plan for the years 2001-2005. (China's first economic plan was in 1953 and began China's centrally-planned industrialisation under Mao Zedong.) In September 2004, the State Council approved plans for two units at Sanmen in Zhejiang province followed by two and then a further four units at Yangjiang in Guangdong province, these to be Generation III nuclear reactors from overseas.

The Eleventh Economic Plan, for 2006-2010, set even more ambitious goals than the Tenth for new nuclear plant construction, and marked a watershed in China's commitment to third-generation reactors. In December 2006, the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design was selected for two units each at Sanmen and Yangjiang, though the Yangjiang site later switched to Haiyang in the more northerly Shandong province. Two AREVA EPRs, also initially under consideration for Yangjiang, were later chosen for Taishan, another Guangdong site.

"In 2007, three state-owned corporations had been approved by the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) to own and operate nuclear power plants"

In 2007, it was announced that three state-owned corporations had been approved by the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) to own and operate nuclear power plants: China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC); China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC, now China General Nuclear, CGN); and China Power Investment Corporation (CPI). Any other public or private companies are restricted to minority shares in new projects, which is proving a severe constraint on the ambitions of the country's main power utilities (including Huaneng, Huadian, Datang and Guodian), all of which have set up nuclear subsidiaries or become involved in nuclear projects (for more information, see also Chinese reactor design evolution).

The Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-15), passed by the government in March 2011, envisaged that installed nuclear capacity would reach 40 GWe, and nuclear power development in coastal provinces would be accelerated. However, these plans were delayed in response to the Fukushima accident, which occurred around the time that the Twelfth Plan was finalised. Despite the slowdown in construction, the October 2012 State Council white paper on energy policy also states that nuclear capacity should reach 40 GWe by 2015.

Plants online and under construction; site by site

Twenty reactors are currently in operation in China and 28 are under construction. Of the latter, 18 units are expected to start up within the next two years, taking nuclear capacity close to the projected 40 GWe figure, more than doubling today's 16.9 GWe. Short profiles for each site are given below.

  • Changjiang: the first nuclear power plant in Changjiang Li Autonomous County, Hainan Island, is expected to comprise four CNP-600 units based on those at Qinshan II.
  • Daya Bay: These reactors are standard three-loop French PWR units supplied by Framatome (now AREVA).
  • Fangchenggang: Of the first two Fangchenggang units, about 87% is being sourced in China. Units 3&4 are earmarked to be the demonstration ACPR1000+ reactors.
  • Fangjiashan: This CNNC plant is close to the Qinshan plant in Zhejiang province and essentially an extension of it. Construction is by China Nuclear Power Engineering Co.
  • Fuqing: The Fujian Fuqing Nuclear Co Ltd was set up in May 2006 with 49% held by China Huadian Corp. CNNC is responsible for units 1-4. Site works are underway there for the first two ACP1000 reactors (as units 5&6).
  • Haiyang: Shangdong Nuclear Power Company (a subsidiary of CPI) signed contracts with Westinghouse and The Shaw Group for two AP1000 units in July 2007.
  • Hongyanhe: This site in Dalian, Liaoning, is the first nuclear power project in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan. China Nuclear Power Engineering Corporation (CNPEC), part of CGN, is managing the project. It also has a 10,080 m3/day desalination plant.
  • Ling Ao: Phase I reactors (that is, Ling Ao 1&2) are based on contiguous Daya Bay site, with 30% localisation.
  • Ningde: China's newest plant came online at this site in early January 2014.
  • Qinshan: China's first indigenously-designed and constructed nuclear power plant (though with the pressure vessel supplied by Japan's Mitsubishi). Qinshan Phase II units 1&2 are locally-designed and constructed two-loop PWR reactors, scaled up from Qinshan 1. Qinshan Phase III units 1&2 use the CANDU 6 pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) technology.
  • Sanmen: Construction by China Nuclear Engineering & Construction Group (CNEC) of Sanmen 1, the world's first AP1000, was originally expected to end in August 2013 with unit 2 about one year later, but the schedule has been pushed back to December 2014 and September 2015, respectively.
  • Shidaowan: The first of China's HTR-PM units, a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor.
  • Taishan: The first two EPRs planned for Taishan form part of an €8 billion contract (which includes supply of fuel to 2026 and other materials and services) signed by AREVA and the Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (now CGN) in November 2007.
  • Tianwan: Phase I at Tianwan is a Russian AES-91 power plant (with two 1000 MWe VVER reactors) constructed under a cooperation agreement between China and Russia - the largest such project ever.
  • Yangjiang: This became the second nuclear power base of the former China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, now CGN. Units 5&6 are the first ACPR1000 units to start construction.

Download a PDF of this article, including tables from the April 2014 issue of Nuclear Engineering International.

About the authors

Ian Hore-Lacy is senior communications & research analyst at the World Nuclear Association; Stephen Tarlton is a writer & analyst at the World Nuclear Association

Map of nuclear power stations in China

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