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TRENDING
Globalizing Nuclear Power
China's nuclear industry gains momentum, aiming to be the world's major exporter
By Yu Lintao | NO. 2 JANUARY 14, 2016

 

The fifth reactor of the Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant which adopts the Hualong One technology is under construction on December 22 in Fuqing, southeast China’s Fujian Province (XINHUA)

On December 16, 2015, the State Council authorized the construction of two nuclear power projects--a pilot project of China's third-generation nuclear power technology at the Fangchenggang Nuclear Power Plant in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and the expansion of the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in Lianyungang, east China's Jiangsu Province.

Statistics from the China Nuclear Energy Association show that eight nuclear power generating units in 2015 were ratified for construction, setting a new record. According to Liu Baohua, director of the nuclear power department under China's National Energy Administration, by the end of 2015, there were 30 nuclear power reactors in operation in China, with an additional 24 under construction.

China's breakthroughs in nuclear power technology coincide with the need for economic restructuring and environmental protection. Qian Zhimin, General Manager of the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), told Beijing Review  that most countries attach great importance to nuclear power's value as clean energy. According to Qian, against the backdrop of global climate change, nations must adjust to consume an increasing amount of greener energies such as nuclear power--minimizing dependence on fossil fuel.

The majority of the world's electricity is currently produced from fossil fuels, predominantly from coal, which is a major concern in addressing both climate change and air pollution. In China, because of the heavy reliance on old coal-fired plants, electricity generation accounts for much of the country's infamous air pollution woes.

The Chinese Government has stated that by 2030 at least 20 percent of its total energy consumption will be met by non-fossil fuel sources, Xie Zhenhua, China's special representative on climate change, said during a press conference held by the State Council on December 23, 2015. By meeting the 2030 target, the country would also reach a 42-percent reduction in total emissions, said Xie.

China has also committed to peaking its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; and countries around the world agreed at the UN climate change conference in Paris in December 2015 to reach zero carbon emissions by the end of the century.

At the same time, the maturity of China's homegrown third-generation nuclear technology is paving the way for its export. Last year saw several big contract signings of China's nuclear technology exports, including a recent deal signed at the 2015 G20 Summit to build two nuclear plants in Argentina.

Liu commented that with its advantages in technology, costs, management, industry chain, and international relationships and coordination, China is well prepared for the nuclear power industry to go global. Liu added that the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative (Belt and Road Initiative) brings the Chinese nuclear industry huge market potential and opportunities for international cooperation.

 

Technicians work at the construction site of the fourth nuclear power reactor of the Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant on December 9, 2015 in Fuqing, southeast China’s Fujian Province (YU LINTAO)

Homemade technology

Represented by Hualong One (also known as HPR1000) and CAP1400, China's domestic nuclear power technology has entered the third-generation era which features less nuclear waste, longer life cycles for power stations and 100 times less risk than its predecessor. Jointly developed by CNNC and the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), Hualong One passed inspection by a national expert panel in August 2014. At present, several pilot units using Hualong One technology are under construction at the Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant in Fujian Province as well as the Fangchenggang Nuclear Power Plant.

Xing Ji of CNNC, chief designer of Hualong One, told Beijing Review  that the technology has gained 743 patents and 104 software copyrights, covering the technology design, software design, fuel processing technology and operational maintenance. Xing said that 85 percent of the equipment for the reactors is developed in China, including the key components in the nuclear power plant with the pressure vessel, steam generator, main pump and pipelines. "Once [we are] into mass production, about 95 percent of the equipment used will be supplied by Chinese firms," said Xing.

In December 2015, CNNC made public China's first software package tailored to Hualong One nuclear power technology. The package, named NESTOR, consists of 68 pieces of software that will help with more efficient reactor design, safety analysis, live tests, nuclear refueling and emergency response systems for plants based on the Hualong One design. It is seen as a crucial step for exporting nuclear construction; CNNC researchers claimed that it will pave the way for China to export entire nuclear power projects and technologies.

"Generally speaking, Hualong One is on par with the third-generation technologies of countries such as the United States and France, and it even has a competitive edge over others in terms of economic performance and reliability," said Hu Wenquan, Assistant President of CGN.

CAP1400 was developed by China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. (SNPTC) through re-innovation and integrated innovation on the basis of absorbing the United States' third-generation AP1000 nuclear technology and the combination of China's experience in nuclear power research. According to Professor Zheng Mingguang, President of Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research & Design Institute (SNERDI), the actual generating capacity of a single CAP1400 unit can reach 1.5 million kilowatts, the world's largest passive pressurized water reactor by far

 

A model of the Hualong One nuclear power reactor (YU LINTAO)

Safety first

Throughout history there have been three major nuclear disasters: the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979, the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union in 1986, and the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011. Zheng told Beijing Review that such events are incidents of small probability: The first two resulted from insufficient understanding of design management, while the Fukushima accident was attributed to a natural disaster.

"As the current experience of management and operation of nuclear power stations is quite mature, it is rare for us to make the same mistakes," Zheng claimed.

Zheng, who has been engaged in research on nuclear power for over 30 years, said that it is "quite safe," safer than air traffic, going by accident rates. According to Zheng, even when there were some

minor accidents, they were mostly controlled within the reactor units without causing catastrophe.

Since Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011, preventing cooling system failure has become a key safety priority for the nuclear industry worldwide. Industry insiders said, as both Hualong One and CAP1400 are third-generation nuclear power technologies, they address the problems outlined above.

Hu Wenquan, Assistant President of CGN, said that Hualong One nuclear technology meets the highest requirements for global safety standards. Generating units with the Hualong One design have all adopted double-layer safety shells which can withstand the impact of a large commercial airplane. "It means that even a terrorist attack like that of 9/11 cannot destroy the reactors employing the Hualong One design," said Hu.

Zheng explained that CAP1400 technology meets the latest world nuclear safety standards and it can ensure the safety of the reactor and heat discharge from core decay

under extreme conditions without an external power supply. In the case of an accident,

human intervention is not needed within 72 hours and supply abilities would recover after 72 hours. Zheng also noted that the probability of large amount of radioactivity released into the environment of CAP1400 is one to two orders of magnitude lower than the existing second-generation nuclear power technology.

Ready for export

Along with technological advancement, Chinese nuclear enterprises are also stepping up their overseas strategies. Several have made inroads in global nuclear markets.

Last October, during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the UK, CGN and Electricite de France (EDF) signed a strategic investment agreement to build a nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in southwestern England. Meanwhile, CGN and EDF are planning to cooperate on another two nuclear projects at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex. The Bradwell project plans to use China's Hualong One nuclear technology.

CNNC General Manager Qian said that so far, CNNC had exported six nuclear power reactors, five miniature neutron source reactors, two nuclear research facilities and one experimental reactor.

Ma Lu, Vice General Manager of China's State Power Investment Corp., said that CAP1400 can help shorten the construction

period to 56 months, making it more competitive in the global market. Exports of the CAP1400 nuclear technology to South Africa and Turkey are in the pipeline. During the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in December 2015, an agreement was signed between China and South Africa to train South African nuclear technicians in this regard.

The implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative will create more demand for China's nuclear industry. According to Qian, among the 60 countries alongside the land and maritime Silk Roads, about 40 have plans to develop

nuclear power. Statistics showed that, the export of every nuclear power reactor will need 80,000 devices, involve more than 200 companies for construction and create about 150,000 jobs. Experts estimated that if China can take 20 percent of the market along the land and maritime Silk Roads, China can export 30 nuclear power units, which could generate 1 trillion yuan ($153 billion) in output value, create 5 million jobs and 3 trillion yuan ($460 billion) for the whole operation lifetime.

CNNC has already sold its Hualong One technology to Pakistan and is helping the country build several nuclear power projects, and negotiations on nuclear cooperation between CNNC and other countries along the Belt and Road such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are under way.

According to Hu of CGN, Viet Nam has sent some technicians to the Fangchenggang nuclear power station for training in the hopes of future cooperation. Thailand's Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Public Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of the state-owned Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, set up a joint venture with CGN to build and operate the second phase of the Fangchenggang plant, with the aim of gaining valuable technological experience needed to develop its own nuclear power industry.

In reality, a nuclear power plant cooperation project lasts decades long, thus such cooperation requires long-term sound and stable bilateral relations between the contractors. Zheng suggested that in the long run, the overseas strategy of Chinese nuclear enterprises should be based on setting up joint ventures with local firms to train talents and foster the growth of their industries.

Zheng also warned that, as safety is the lifeblood of the industry, whenever conducting cooperation with other countries, strict appraisals on the countries' infrastructure and safety culture must be carried out to make sure whether they are suitable to develop nuclear power. "Blind expansion must be avoided," Zheng stressed.

Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

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