China-built nuclear reactors may enjoy home advantage as delays and costs stymie foreign competitors

  • Stalled by the Fukushima effect and a three-year moratorium, China now favours development of the home-grown Hualong One for the domestic market
Topic | Energy




Construction at the No 5 unit of Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant in Fuqing, Fujian Province, where the domestically developed Hualong One third-generation reactor is being installed. Photo: Xinhua

China’s home-grown nuclear technology is gaining favour in the battle for the nation’s next generation of reactors, according to a state-owned developer, as it sought to recover from delays and cost blowouts from imported designs.

China’s reactor, known as the Hualong One, will be faster and easier to repair and maintain than competing foreign designs because it will be made at home, according to Chen Hua, chief executive officer of China National Nuclear Power company (CNNP), which builds and operates nuclear power projects.

“We prefer the Hualong One,” Chen said on Monday at a nuclear energy conference in Beijing.

The global nuclear industry has been awaiting a revival in China after cost overruns and stricter regulation after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan stalled the approval and construction of more units.

The country’s expanding energy demand and drive for cleaner energy have attracted Western reactor builders, including Westinghouse Electric from the US and Electricite de France.

Their signature third-generation reactors – the AP1000 and EPR respectively – recently began commercial operations in China. However, they face competition domestically, as state-run China National Nuclear Corporation, the parent of CNNP, and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) promote the production and export of the Hualong One.

CNNP operates the Sanmen project in eastern Zhejiang province, which uses Westinghouse’s AP1000 design. After starting commercial operations at the No 2 reactor in November, it has been suspended after a problem with its coolant system at the end of last year.

Westinghouse is examining the defect at Sanmen No 2 and will be responsible for the cost of fixing it as the unit is still under warranty, Chen said, adding that repairs may take as long as eight months. A China-based Westinghouse spokesman would not comment on the work, and representatives in the US made no comment on Monday.

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Curtiss-Wright, the US company that made the pump, is working with Westinghouse to determine the cause of the problem. Its liability, “if any, is limited to the cost of repairing a part,” up to the cost of replacing the entire pump, it said on Monday.

There are 12 more pumps in operation at three other AP1000 reactors in China.

The race to build more reactors in China may intensify as a three-year freeze on approvals ended this year, clearing the way for the construction of four Hualong One units. The decision was regarded as an indication of China’s preference going forward, BloombergNEF analyst Hanyang Wei said.

China is expected to build more than 30 Hualong One nuclear reactors based on project approvals and development plans, Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology deputy general manager Xian Chunyu said at the Beijing conference on Tuesday, without specifying a time frame.

The twin reactors at Taishan City, southern Guangdong province are EPR units built by a partnership of EDF and CGN and the French company is in discussions to develop more in China. Photo: FactWire

China may approve as many as 10 nuclear units this year, none of which will be AP1000s, according to the China Nuclear Energy Association.

“The AP1000 is dead in China, and it may very well be dead all over the world,’’ Chris Gadomski, lead nuclear analyst for BloombergNEF, said. “I don’t know who would place an order for a new AP1000.’’

Chen said the third-generation designs are similar in costs, but ultimately the choice will come down to which technology has a better support system and result in costs falling the fastest.

That is not to say the AP1000 is completely out of the race, according to Chen, who said the company may still use it. He called the technology an “advanced idea” and forecast it may take another eight years for it to reach commercial scale. China is also developing an upgraded version, called the CAP1400.

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“It’s like a really good car, super advanced, but what happens if you do not have enough spare parts,” Chen said. “So you might prefer something more mature. If there are any issues, you’re able to fix it.”

EDF said on Tuesday it was in discussion with China about the potential for more EPR reactors in the country. The French nuclear operator partnered with CGN to build Taishan Nos 1 and 2 in Guangdong province, and sees “room” for EPR development in China and at Taishan.

“Sites for nuclear are getting scarce so it’s good to consider high capacity power plants,” Fabrice Fourcade, chairman of EDF China, said. “At the moment the only one available before CAP1400 comes into operation is EPR.”

Workers install the Hualong reactor pressure vessel of No 5 unit at Fuqing nuclear power plant in Fujian province. Photo: Xinhua

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