Asia’s nuclear power plans

13 September 2023

The number of nuclear reactors is increasing in Asia and decreasing in Western Europe and North America. It’s setting the scene for a battle for global dominance.

Above: China dominates Asia’s nuclear sector

In recent months, nuclear power development in Asia has become the focus of growing attention. Globally, the number of nuclear reactors is increasing in Asia, while it is decreasing in Western Europe and North America. As the WNA notes: “Asia is the main region in the world where electricity generating capacity and specifically nuclear power are growing significantly. In Asia there are about 140 operable nuclear power reactors, about 30-35 under construction and firm plans to build an additional 40-50. Many more are proposed.”

While this has been the trend for some time, it has accelerated in recent years, partly because of growing concerns about energy in general, following stringent Western sanctions imposed on Russian oil and gas supplies. These considerations have, in some cases, even reversed the negative impact of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, which saw a number of countries such as South Korea and Taiwan embark on nuclear-phase out policies.

Another factor is the increasing number of small modular reactor (SMR) designs being offered to the market, encouraged by both private investment and government grants and awards. SMRs are being promoted as suitable for smaller countries that had hitherto ruled out standard NPPs as inappropriate or unaffordable.

Asian countries with established nuclear power programmes or NPPs under construction include China, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Bangladesh. Many others are now considering or reconsidering developing nuclear power, enticed by the promise of SMRs.

In terms of operable nuclear power units, China leads Asia with 55~ ranking third worldwide. Next comes Japan with 33, but only 10 are currently operating. South Korea has 25, ranking fifth worldwide. India has 22, Pakistan six, Taiwan two and Bangladesh two under construction.


China is largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction based on adaptations of Western technology (from Canada, France and the US), which it is now exporting. Its 55 nuclear units at eight sites have a total capacity of 53,286 MWe. A further 23 units under construction at eight sites will add 24,296 MWe. In addition, some 45 units are planned totalling 50,110 MWe, with around 80 more firmly proposed.

Three large state companies (and their subsidiaries) are responsible for NPP construction – China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) and State Energy Investment Corporation (SPIC). The reactor fleet comprises a range of different technologies, both imported and indigenous. Most are pressurised water reactors (PWRs), including the oldest unit, Qinshan 1, a 300 MWe Chinese-designed PWR, which started operating in 1991. Other technologies include pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs), high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGRs) and fast neutron reactors (FNRs).

Imported technologies include two Canadian Candu-6 PHWRs at Qinshan Phase III (Zhejiang province); French PWR M310 units at Daya Bay and Ling Ao and EPRs at Taishan (Guangdong province); Russian VVER-1000 and VVER-1200 PWRs at Tianwan (Jiangsu province) and Xudabao (Liaoning province); and US AP-1000 PWRs at Haiyang (Shandong province) and Sanmen (Zhejiang province).

Indigenous development was based mainly on French M31 technology with CNNC and CGN producing slightly different versions: CNP1000, CNP600, CNP300, ACP300, ACP600, ACP1000 for CNNC; and CPR1000, M310+, ACPR1000 for CGN. The 1,000 MWe versions have now been integrated as the Hualong One (HPR1000). Three Hualong one units are already in operation in China with nine more under construction and others planned. China also adapted the US (Westinghouse) AP1000 under a technology transfer deal as the CAP1000 and CAP1400. Four CAP1000s are now under construction at sites originally planned for AP1000s.

The Hualong One is China’s main export model. As yet, China has only exported NPPs to Pakistan, but the country also expects to finalise an agreement with Argentina. The UK cancelled plans for construction of a Hualong One at its Bradwell-on-Sea site largely for political reasons and China was also excluded from NPP tenders in the Czech Republic and Poland.

China is also pushing ahead with SMRs and advanced reactors. CNNC’s SMR demonstration project at the Changjiang NPP (Hainan province) features the multi- purpose125 MWe ACP-100 (Linglong One) developed from the larger ACP1000 PWR. It is designed for electricity generation, urban heating and cooling, industrial steam production, or seawater desalination. Construction of the main internal structure for the reactor building has been completed. It was the first SMR project to pass an independent safety assessment by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts in 2016. In 2017, a joint venture was set up by China National Nuclear Power Co (part of CNNC) and four other domestic companies to develop and produce small, floating NPPs. Its remit was R&D, construction, operation & management and sales including possible exports.

China is also building two demonstration pool-type sodium-cooled CFR-600 fast reactors in Xiapu county, Fujian province, as part of its plans to establish a closed nuclear fuel cycle. Construction of the first CFR-600 began in 2017 based on the China Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) at the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) in Beijing. The CEFR was built with the assistance of Russia, which is supplying fuel for both the CEFR and CFR-600.


Before the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan’s 54 reactors at 17 NPPs generated 30% of its power with plans to increase the share to 40%. All 54 were closed after the accident and new stringent safety standards were introduced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in 2013. A total of 21 reactors were closed permanently, leaving 33 operable units totalling 31,679 MWe at 13 NPPs. As yet only 10 units (9,486 MWe) are in operation at six NPPs. Others are in the process of being reactivated or undergoing modifications to meet the new regulations with 16 awaiting regulatory approval to restart. Work stopped on two reactors that were under construction in 2011 (Shimane 3 and Ohma 1) and they are still facing delays. Japan’s NPPs all operate light water reactors (LWRs), the first of which were bought from US vendors such as General Electric and Westinghouse. Japanese companies were subcontracted to take part in construction and these were later licensed to build similar plants. Companies such as Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry (MHI) developed the capacity to design and construct LWRs and by the late 1970s, Japan had established a domestic nuclear power industry. Currently it exports equipment worldwide and is also developing new reactor designs. MHI is designing an advanced 1200 MWe LWR (SRZ-1200) in cooperation with four EPCs (Kansai, Kyushu, Hokkaido, and Shikoku.)

Reactor restarts have been slower than expected. In 2022, nuclear only accounted for around 8% of electricity supply. The government’s Green Transformation (GX) strategic plan assumes that nuclear will account for 20–22% by 2030. Japan’s reactors include both PWRs, boiling water reactors (BWRs) and advanced BWRs (ABWRs). To date only PWRs have been restarted as BWRs require a filtered containment venting system, complicating the upgrades needed to meet the new regulations. Parliament recently endorsed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s policy to allow reactor operation beyond the 60-year limit set after Fukushima and to replace ageing facilities with next-generation advanced reactors.

Japan had planned to use FNRs as part of a wider policy to expand the use of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel, with up to 18 reactors designated to use MOX. After Fukushima this was reduced to 12, only four of which are approved for operation, with three still awaiting approval to restart. Moreover, operation of the Monju FNR and Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s (JAEA’s) Joyo experimental FNR was impeded by a series of technical and political problems. This ultimately led to Monju’s closure but in May 2023, NRA said Joyo had met regulatory standards, and could restart.

Japan is working closely with the USA on FNR development. JAEA, MHI, and Mitsubishi FBR Systems (MFBR) recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with US-based Terrapower to develop sodium-cooled fast reactor technology. This is supported by the US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Reactor Design Demonstration Program (ARDP). MHI said Japan will accelerate innovations in various nuclear technologies through international collaboration on next-generation innovative reactors. Terrapower’s Natrium reactor is also being developed jointly with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

In 2021, JAEA also resumed operation of its 30 MW experimental High Temperature Engineering Test Reactor (HTTR), closed for more than 10 years, after the HTGR was upgraded to meet the new regulatory requirements. JAEA is also co-operating with Poland’s National Centre for Nuclear Research to design a HTGR.

South Korea

Like China, South Korea is now largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction based on adaptations of Western (mainly US) technology, which it is now exporting. Its 25 nuclear units at four sites have a total capacity of 24,489 MWe and account for around 27% of its electricity needs. Three more units under construction at two sites will add 4,020 MWe, with two units planned totalling 2,800 MWe.

Most of South Korea’s nuclear units are LWRs apart from four Candu-6 PHWRs at its Wolsong NPP. South Korea’s first nuclear unit, Kori 1 (now closed), a Westinghouse unit built on a turnkey basis, began operation in 1978. Seven more were built in the 1980s based Westinghouse and Framatome technology including two involving Combustion Engineering (CE), which became part of Westinghouse. Korea’s ambitions to develop its own nuclear technology for export led to new reactor designs being developed. In 2005 the OPR- 1000 (Optimised Power Reactor) was launched with an eye to Asian markets. South Korea now has 10 operating OPR-1000 units and has since developed the Generation III APR-1400, three of which are in operation.

Korea has an extensive nuclear R&D base and manufacturing capacity including state-owned Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), Korea Electric Power Co (Kepco) and subsidiary Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) as well as heavy engineering companies such as Samsung, Daewoo, Hyundai, and Doosan. These dominate the domestic market and are increasingly active globally.

Projects include a variety of advanced reactors and SMRs, including the 330MWt System-Integrated Modular Advanced Reactor (SMART) reactor, which began development in 1997. In 2015 the SMART Power Company Ltd was launched supported by six supply chain companies to promote exports particularly to the Middle East and a co-operation agreement was signed with Saudi Arabia. Korea is also working on a sodium-cooled FNR in close co-operation with the US, and a HTGR for hydrogen generation.

Korea is driven by considerations of energy security and the need to minimise dependence on imported fuels and technology. Kepco markets the OPR1000 and APR1400 globally. In 2009 the APR1400 was selected by the UAE for its four-unit Barakah NPP, now almost complete with three units already in operation ahead of schedule and within budget. Korea also won a contract in 2009 to supply a research reactor to Jordan, which was commissioned in 2016. In 2010 Korea announced plans to export 80 reactors by 2030, targeting 20% of the global market. It aimed to be 100% self-sufficient in nuclear technology by 2012, with no residual intellectual property constraints. US design certification for the APR1400 was finally approved in 2019 and in 2023 a new APR1000 design, specifically developed for the European market, was certified by the European Utility Requirements organisation. The success of the UAE project sparked interest worldwide and preliminary agreements were signed with several countries.

Despite Fukushima, Korea announced plans in 2012 to increase nuclear’s share to 60% by 2035. However, in the face of growing public opposition, the government in 2013 drafted a reduced plan for a 29% nuclear share by 2035 and in 2017, the new government of President Moon Jae-in adopted a phase out plan. By the time this policy was reversed in 2023 by President Yoon Suk-yeol, the nuclear industry had lost a lot of ground. The new target was a 34.6% nuclear share by 2036, the export of 10 NPPs by 2030 and development of a Korean SMR design for export.

Korea’s ties to the US have also complicated its nuclear development. The 1974 Korea-US Atomic Energy Agreement that limited raw material supply and banned uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing in Korea was extended for 20 years in 2015. Faced with pressure from Korea, the renewed agreement was framed more as a partnership, but it still contained restrictions. In May 2022 Korea joined the US-led Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) programme during a visit from US President Joe Biden’s visit to Korea to collaborate in promoting the global deployment of SMRs.

However, Westinghouse filed a lawsuit against KHNP after it signed an agreement with Polish private company ZE PAK to build an APR1400 at a former coal plant. This came after a tender to supply reactors for Poland’s nuclear power programme was awarded to Westinghouse. This also undermined Korea’s plans for possible exports to the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia. The lawsuit alleged intellectual property infringement by KHNP insisting on US government consent for export of the APR1400 claiming that it uses Westinghouse technology.


India’s largely indigenous nuclear power programme is self- sufficient in reactor design and construction. Its 22 operable reactors at seven sites have a total capacity of 6,795 MWe, although three are currently suspended for repair leaving 19 operating units with a total capacity of 6,290 MWe. Eight more units under construction at four sites will add 6,028 MWe, with 12 further units planned. Nuclear currently accounts for around 1.5% of India’s installed power capacity. In April 2023 the government announced plans to increase nuclear capacity to 22,480 MWe by 2031, with nuclear accounting for nearly 9% of India’s electricity by 2047.

The reactor fleet comprises a range of different technologies, both imported and indigenous. Most are Indian designed PHWRs. Other technologies include India’s first power reactor, a Canadian supplied Candu at Rajasthan NPP, which started up in 1973 and closed in 2004; two BWRs built by GE on a turnkey contract at Tarapur NPP (currently suspended); and two VVERs (PWRs) at Kudankulam supplied by Russia. India is also building a 500 MWe FNR at Kalpakkam. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is responsible for construction and operation of India’s NPPs and Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (Bhavini) is responsible for FNR development.

Engineering companies, such as state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), Larsen & Toubro (L&T), and Bharat Forge Ltd (BFL), are key players in nuclear construction. The 1962 Atomic Energy Act prohibited private control of nuclear power generation. Amendments in 2016 only allow public sector joint ventures and direct foreign investment only in the supply chain and not in construction.

India has a large and sophisticated nuclear R&D and manufacturing base, having launched its first research reactor, supplied by the UK, in 1957. Initially nuclear development was supported mainly by the UK, Canada, the US and France. However, after India’s nuclear bomb test in 1974, all support was withdrawn. The newly established Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), from which India was excluded, prevented India from importing any nuclear technology or fuel, setting it on a path of independent nuclear development.

With limited uranium resources, India embarked on a three-stage programme aimed at using its abundant thorium resources based on an advanced heavy-water thorium cycle. Stage 1 would use PHWRs and LWRs. Plutonium from these would fuel the fast reactors planned for Stage 2. Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWRs) in Stage 3 would burn thorium-plutonium fuels in a self- sustaining fuel cycle. An alternative end stage could be molten salt breeder reactors (MSBRs).

India immediately embarked on construction of small PHWRs and by 2008, 12 200-220 MWe units were in operation at five sites, as well as two 540 MWe units at Tarapur NPP.

In 2002 the regulatory authority approved construction of a 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam, which is now nearing completion, while research is underway on molten salt reactors (MSRs).

Only Russia continued cooperation based on a 1988 agreement that pre-dated the NSG, and in 2002 began construction of two VVER-1000 units at the Kudankulam NPP. Then, in 2005, India signed a civil nuclear agreement with the US, leading in 2008 to an NSG waiver for India, despite its not signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). This enabled nuclear trade to resume but negotiations to include India as a full NSG member have so far stalled on Chinese opposition. Nevertheless, the waiver enabled India to sign nuclear cooperation agreements with numerous countries and to start discussions with the US, France, Japan and South Korea on possible construction.

However, India’s nuclear liability regime impeded progress. Following the 1984 Bhopal disaster India passed a law, making equipment suppliers responsible for any future accident. Amendments in 2010 made plant operators primarily liable but still allowed possible recourse to suppliers. A compromise was reached with Russia, which continued construction at Kudankulam, where two units are now operating with two more under construction and others planned. Other suppliers remained hesitant. While projects were agreed with France for six EPRs at Jaitapur and with the US for six AP1000s at Kovvada, they have not been finalised. India, meanwhile, embarked on a programme to build larger 700 MWe PHWRs, the first of which began operating at the Kakrapar NPP (unit 3) in 2021, with plans for 10 more.


Pakistan has six operable reactors at two sites supplied on a turnkey basis by China, with a total capacity of 3,262 MWe. Four CNP-300 reactors (300-315 MWe) at the Chasma NPP site began operation between 2011 and 2017. In June 2023, Pakistan and China signed an agreement for construction of a 1,100 MWe Hualong One (HPR1000) reactor for Chasma 5. Unit 1 at the Karachi NPP site, a 137 MWe Candu supplied by Canada that began operation in 1971 and closed in 2021 was the first nuclear power unit in Asia. The site also hosts two Chinese supplied 1,017 MWe Hualong One units that began operation in 2021 and 2022. Over the coming decade Pakistan plans to expand its nuclear power generating capacity to 8,800 MWe.

Pakistan has a significant R&D base but much of it is linked to the military programme. The Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science & Technology (Pinstech) at Rawalpindi with a US-supplied research reactor focuses on civil research and is under IAEA safeguards. Other facilities in Rawalpindi and Khushab continue to support weapons development.

Like India, Pakistan is excluded from the NSG. However, all its power units are under IAEA safeguards and IAEA oversight and support is ongoing. In 2018 four IAEA national technical cooperation projects were amalgamated into a single project, PAK2007, “Strengthening and Enhancing Capabilities of Pakistan’s National Institutions to Support a Safe, Reliable & Sustainable Nuclear Power Programme”. This aims to streamline workflows, reduce delays and costs, enhance cooperation and harmonise safety and waste management approaches.


Two of Taiwan’s three US-supplied two-unit NPPs (Chinshan, Kuosheng and Maanshan) have now been closed in line with a nuclear phase-out law adopted in 2016. A fourth NPP under construction, Lungmen, was cancelled. Taiwan’s six operable power reactors are to be decommissioned as their 40-year operating licences expire. Chinshan 1, Taiwan’s oldest plant, closed in 2018, followed by Chinshan 2 in 2019. These 600 MWe General Electric (GE) Mark I BWRs began operation in 1978 and 1979. Kuosheng 1&2, 985 MWe GE Mark III BWRs, which began operation in 1981 and 1983, were closed in 2021 and 2023. Construction of Lungmen 1&2 (both GE 1350 MWe ABWR units) began in 1999. Lungmen 1 was completed but mothballed in 2015, and construction of Lungmen 2 was suspended in 2014.

Taiwan now has two operable nuclear units at the Maanshan plant, both Westinghouse 936 MWe PWRs, whose operating licences expire in 2024 and 2025. Owner-operator Taipower also operates coal power plants, which are to be replaced by natural gas turbines. Taiwan’s first deliveries of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are expected in 2023. While there is strong anti-nuclear sentiment in Taiwan, the opposition Kuomintang Party, which is expected to win the forthcoming elections, opposed the nuclear phase out.

Asia’s nuclear outlook

While early nuclear development in Asia was largely influenced by regional rivalries, today it is the focus of a global power struggle between China and the US. India has so far largely avoided involvement in this geopolitical game. Pakistan’s close ties with China are evident, as are South Korea’s and Japan’s ties with the US. China would clearly like to increase exports of its Hualong One and also SMRs, including floating NPPs, and is increasingly becoming a competitive vendor. There are numerous other runners and riders looking to embrace nuclear power, especially with the emergence of smaller modular reactors that are more appropriate in places where a full-sized NPP might be more challenging to justify. Longer term, it seems likely that Asia will continue to expand both its nuclear capacity and capabilities.

Author: Judith Perera, Contributing Editor, Nuclear Engineering International

Japan’s nuclear sector has not fully recovered from the Fukushima Diiachi disaster but a new more positive outlook is emerging
Taiwan’s Maanshan NPP has now been closed in line with a nuclear phase-out law adopted in 2016 (Photo credit: Jack Hong/

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