Steady and safe

1 January 2013

China has released its new energy policy, along with new mid- to long-term plans for the development of nuclear power and plans to improve nuclear safety and security. By Caroline Peachey

China has reaffirmed its commitment to nuclear power, saying in its most recent energy white paper that it remains ‘of great significance’ to the country. It has also set mid- to long-term targets for nuclear power development, and, stressing that safety is a key priority, it has announced plans to invest some 80 billion yuan ($13bn) on improving nuclear safety and security over the next three years.

40 GW by 2015 and 58 GW by 2020

China’s installed nuclear power capacity is expected to reach 40 GW by 2015, according to ‘China Energy Policy 2012,’ released 24 October.

The new energy policy document states that nuclear power development ‘is of great significance’ to China for optimizing its energy structure and ensuring its energy security. It also pledges to invest more in nuclear technology, improve equipment levels and place greater importance on personnel training.

In 2011, China had 15 nuclear reactors in operation, total capacity 12.54 GW, which accounted for around 1.8% of China’s total power output. With a further 26 nuclear units (29.24 GW) under construction, China was ‘leading the world,’ the policy said. Although China still remains the world leader, new construction has been paused for almost two years, with suspensions placed on authorisation of new nuclear projects shortly after the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan.

Prior to Fukushima, China had been accelerating its nuclear power programme and its official target for 40 GW nuclear capacity by 2020 was expected to rise to 80 GW or higher. It was anticipated that the 12th Five-Year plan (2011-2015) could see as many as 40 new nuclear power projects, with the first inland plants starting construction.

But it is not to be. While China is still likely to surpass its 40 GW by 2020 target outlined in the 11th Five-Year plan, achieving this by 2015, future construction will be a much slower pace with a capacity goal of 58 GW in operation with additional 38 GW under construction by 2020.

Premier Wen Jiabao said in an October statement that reactor construction would resume at a ‘steady’ pace in the 12th Plan period, which runs from 2011 to 2015. Only a ‘small number’ of nuclear power projects would be approved by 2015, Wen said. Right after his speech, in the early November, news showed that China’s nuclear project approval process has returned to normal.

Further, it is believed that only coastal sites will be approved in the 12th plan period. Previously, up to seven inland provinces could have applied to host nuclear power plants before 2015. The turn-around now means rescheduling planned AP1000 projects at Taohuajiang (Hunan province), Xianning (Hubei province) and Pengze (Jiangxi province), which had all been expected to start construction before 2015.

Another change is that any future nuclear power plants in China must comply with Generation III safety standards. “New nuclear power project must be in accordance with the world’s highest safety requirements,” Wen said.

This represents a significant policy shift. Pre-Fukushima, the mainstay of China’s nuclear power programme was its Generation II or Generation II+ CPR-1000 design, which has significantly evolved from the 900 MWe-class French M310 three-loop PWR technology imported for the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in the 1980s. Although China is also constructing imported Generation III reactors (four Westinghouse AP1000 units, two AREVA EPR reactors), the majority of the units under construction (18) and planned pre-Fukushima (over 50) were of CPR-1000 design. The first two CPR-1000 units Ling Ao 3&4 entered operation in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

China was the only country pursuing large-scale building of Generation II reactors, and even there the shift to Generation III technology has been recommended for some time. In January 2011, a report from the State Council Research Office (SCRO), which makes independent recommendations to the State Council on strategic matters, emphasised that China’s priority should be resolutely on Generation III technology, notably the AP1000 and derivatives.

SCRO said that China should be ‘careful’ concerning ‘the volume of second generation units under construction...’ and that ‘the scale should not be too large’ to avoid any perception of being below international standards of safety in future, when most of the world’s Gen-II reactors are retired.

Safety first

The increasing importance of nuclear safety in China has been evident on a number of fronts.

The most recent energy policy document stresses that nuclear safety and security is essential for nuclear power development, and a key concept of China’s programme.

“Upholding a scientific and rational concept of nuclear security, China implements the principle of ‘safety first’ in the whole process of nuclear power station planning, site selection, R&D, design, construction, operation and decommissioning,” it said.

The policy document adds that “Over the past 20 years, Chinese nuclear power units in operation have never had accidents at and above Level 2 [on the International Nuclear Events Scale, INES], with major operating parameters being better than the world’s average and some indices even reaching the leading or advanced world level.”

It then goes on to praise the infrastructure set up in China, where the first nuclear power plant (Qinshan 1) only entered operation just over two decades ago.

It says that China has established and improved a legal system on nuclear power, improved and optimized the safety management mechanism of nuclear power, and clarified safety responsibility.

“[China] has improved the supervision…of nuclear power by strengthening safety supervision and inspection, radiation environment supervision and management at nuclear power plants in operation and under construction. An emergency mechanism for nuclear accidents has been established and improved to enhance the country’s emergency response capability,” it said.

The energy policy also noted that in response to the Fukushima disaster, China conducted comprehensive safety assessments at its 41 reactors in service or under construction, as well as at research sites and fuel cycle facilities. The National Energy Bureau (NDRC) and China’s Seismological Bureau carried out the checks between March and December 2011. They focused on 11 areas, including evaluations of seismic and flooding protection, checks on fire-fighting systems, and assessment of the measures in place for mitigating serious accidents. While “the results show that nuclear security is guaranteed in China,” according to the energy policy, China is not being complacent.

In February 2012, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) launched a series of research and development (R&D) projects aimed at improving emergency response and accident management capability at its nuclear power plants.

The programme, due to be completed in 2013, aims to use the lessons from Fukushima to improve the safety of China’s nuclear power plants and their resistance to extreme disasters, NEA said.

Thirteen different projects were announced, covering areas such as severe accident mitigation, beyond design basis earthquake and flooding, hydrogen control and radiation monitoring in case of an accident.

They are being conducted by China National Nuclear Corporation, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology, as well as other domestic organizations involved in the construction and operation of nuclear power plants.

The results of the research will be used to improve nuclear power plant technology. “Implementing the measures will comprehensively enhance safety of Generation II+ nuclear power technology in our country, and significantly reduce the core damage frequency and large early release frequency” to “internationally recognized levels” required for Generation III reactors, NEA said.

On top of this there is the ‘12th Five-Year Plan for Nuclear Safety and Radioactive Pollution Prevention and Vision for 2020,’ which has been compiled by the Ministry of Environment and recently approved by the State Council. It suggests that China will need to spend 80 billion yuan ($13 billion) on improving nuclear safety at 41 reactors in operation and under construction over the next three years. That plan described the Fukushima accident as having a ‘very profound’ effect on nuclear safety.

The plan outlines measures to enhance safety at five different types of facilities: operating nuclear power plants, plants under construction, research reactors, fuel cycle facilities, as well as nuclear facilities undergoing decommissioning and radioactive waste management sites. China hopes that the measures detailed in the 12th plan can help improve nuclear security as well as radiation and environmental safety.

As well as outlining plans to 2015, the document also includes a vision in which it aims to “significantly reduce the risk of nuclear power” by 2020.

“We believe that with gradual implementation of the plan, it is expected that by 2020, nuclear power safety of our country will keep on maintaining world advanced level,” an official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (NNSA) said [in June 2012].

Early on the document describes the nuclear security situation in China as ‘not optimistic.’

“China has multiple types of nuclear reactors, multiple technologies and multiple standards of safety, which makes them hard to manage,” the report says, adding that the standards of operation and construction of nuclear reactors must improve.

Describing a number of nuclear safety and radioactive pollution prevention challenges, the report says that many research and fuel cycle facilities have weak capability to withstand external events. It then goes on to recommend ‘further accelerating’ the retiring of early nuclear facilities, and calls for legacy radioactive waste to be properly sited.

In the period to 2015, the plan envisages the start of nuclear decommissioning activities, completion of a national survey of radioactive contamination, as well as refinement of low-level radioactive waste processing and disposal techniques.

Looking ahead to 2020, it calls for early decommissioning of all closed nuclear facilities, formation of a national low-level solid waste near surface disposal site, as well as completion of a high-level radioactive waste underground research laboratory.

Science and technology research and development needs to be strengthened, the report says, adding that there are overall deficiencies in the development of nuclear safety regulation.

“The scattered resources, lack of personnel, lack of R&D capabilities and technological support are restricting the level of nuclear safety in China,” it says.

The report adds that the nuclear emergency management system needs to be refined, with roles and responsibilities of each organization clearly defined.

“There is a lack of an emergency support mechanism, emergency resources and reserves for deployment,” the plan says, emphasising that “local governments urgently need to enhance monitoring and technical support capabilities.”

Nuclear regulation needs to be upgraded, the plan says, highlighting the lack of independent nuclear safety analysis and on-site supervision as areas for improvement. It adds that the “environmental monitoring system is not perfect, and efforts should be made to enhance the monitoring capacity.”

Invest in innovation

As well as investing in nuclear safety, China’s recent energy policy also pledged to invest more in nuclear power technological innovations, promote application of advanced technology, improve the equipment level, and attach great importance to personnel training.

“The Chinese government will give more support in funding, technology and policy to launch major demonstration projects in such fields as large pressurized-water reactors, high-temperature gas-cooled reactors,” it said.

Meanwhile, Wen said that China would improve nuclear safety by accelerating research and development, implementing new standards and regulations as well as emergency management and response capabilities. He said that China would actively carry out international cooperation, a sentiment echoed in the national energy policy white paper, which stated:

“Energy security is a global issue. Few countries can secure their energy supply without international cooperation. The achievements China has made in energy development are inseparable from its friendly cooperation with other countries. Its future development in the energy sector will need more understanding and support from the international community.”

Author Info:

This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Nuclear Engineering International

Additional information from Yun Zhou, special consultant, Ux Consulting Company.

Measures to be taken to enhance safety of operating nuclear power plants in 12th plan


1. Investigate and complete waterproofing of nuclear power plant doors, windows, vents, cables and process piping.

2. Consider station blackout conditions and ensure that the means are in place for cooling of the reactor core and spent fuel pool to prevent the reaction, to maintain monitoring capabilities after the accident, and to set up mobile power supplies and pumps.

3. Ensure effectiveness of earthquake monitoring and recording systems and improve seismic response capacity of nuclear plants.

The end of 2013:

4. Implement anti-flooding measures at each nuclear power plant (including renovation project at Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant).

5. Complete review and assessment of earthquake and tsunami risk for coastal nuclear power plants.

6. Develop and implement severe accident management guidelines.

7. Assess equipment for mitigating hydrogen explosions in case of severe accident, and implement any appropriate improvements.

8. Carry out external analysis and evaluation of safety margins.

9. Study the possibility of simultaneous multi-unit events and emergency response programme.


10. Carry out an external event probabalistic safety analysis.

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