The Chinese government's commitment to expand nuclear power capacity is consistent with its desire to reduce the country's historical dependence on coal as a source of power. By 2010, China plans to have 500,000MW of electricity capacity, including 20,000MW of nuclear energy capacity, or about 10 times its current nuclear energy production. With eight nuclear plants under construction, and up to 10 more to be built by 2010, its nuclear energy programme is one of the fastest growing in the world.
Renewed faith in nuclear energy is not just a Chinese phenomenon. Many countries, including the US, are now rethinking the nuclear option, largely because of concerns over global warming and security of supply – especially a fear of overdependence on imported energy sources. Nuclear power currently accounts for only 1 percent of China's power supply, compared with figures of 22 percent in the US, 33 percent in Japan and 77 percent in France.
However, China's demand for foreign nuclear reactor technology is about to boom as the country attempts to meet growing energy needs. Electricity generation tripled between 1980 and 1995, but an estimated 20 percent of present demand still cannot be met, which results in periodic brownouts and plant closures. While coal is China's main source of energy, most reserves are in the north or northwest of the country, far from the areas of greatest demand. Nuclear power stations are located in the economically vibrant south and southeast, where there is little coal. The government also has plans to extend electric power supplies to remote areas that currently have none.
Ken Petrunik, vice-president and project director of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd AECL), says: "China is right now developing an energy strategy and nuclear will be a large part of it… [Total energy] capacity could easily double in 20 years because the political will is there and they have the technical capacity."
The following points have been agreed as key elements of the government's nuclear energy policy:
-pressurised water reactors (PWRs) will be the mainstream but not sole reactor type
-nuclear fuel assemblies will be fabricated and supplied indigenously
-domestic manufacturing of plant and equipment will be maximised, with self reliance in design and project management
-international co-operation is nevertheless encouraged
The building of nuclear power plants is an important element of the 10th five-year plan 2001-05). In Guangdong province, new facilities under consideration include two more 900MW units at Lingao and up to six 1,000MW reactors at Yangjiang. Further developments are to take place in Shandong province, with two 1,000MW units planned for Haiyang. Also proposed are two 1,000MW reactors at Huian, in Fujian province, and two 1,000MW units at Sanmen, near Qinshan in Zhejiang province. Overall, more than 20,000MW of capacity is envisaged.
The China Nuclear Engineering Construction Corporation is responsible for the construction of nuclear facilities while the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) controls other nuclear sector business. The State Commission on Science, Technology and Industry has administrative oversight and includes the China Atomic Energy Authority, which is responsible for managing the peaceful use of nuclear energy and promoting international co-operation.
At present, China has two French-built 900MW nuclear power plants in operation at Daya Bay. The two reactors were supplied by Framatome, with GEC-Alsthom, now known as Alstom, making the turbines. Electricite de France managed the construction of the plants, starting in 1987, with the participation of Chinese engineers. The plant produces about 13bn kWh a year, with 70 percent transmitted to Hong Kong and the remainder to Guangdong. There were long outages in the mid-1990s when Framatome had to replace major components.
A US$4bn four-unit nuclear power plant also based on French technology is being built at Lingao in Guangdong province. Construction of this unit began in May 1997. The first of the 935MW units was connected to the grid in February 2002 and commercial operation began three months later. Unlike Daya Bay, some 30 percent of Lingao's equipment is being made in China. The nuclear island at Daya Bay, the reference plant for Lingao, was supplied by Framatome, which is also supplying Lingao with two nuclear islands, first fuel loads and extensive technology transfer programmes.
Lingao-2 could start commercial service ahead of its scheduled date of March 2003, possibly even before the end of 2002. This would trim construction costs by at least 10 percent, to US$3.7bn, according to Liu Jinhua, general manager of the complex. Fuel loading was completed earlier this year and the reactor will shortly produce its first fission reaction. Framatome ANP, created by a merger between Framatome and Siemens, supplied the first core loads for both units. The company says future loads will be supplied by the Yibin fuel fabrication plant, located in Sichuan province, which has also supplied Daya Bay since 1995.
At present, nuclear accounts for less than 10 percent of Guangdong's power supply, according to Guangdong Nuclear Power Group chairman Zan Yunlong. However, the province's installed nuclear power capacity could reach 10,000MW by 2015 and account for as much as 30 percent of its power supply, senior industry executives believe. Zan says Guangdong Nuclear Power is also planning to build a third nuclear plant with a capacity of 2,000MW in Yangjiang, a coastal city about 240km west of Hong Kong.
A Chinese-built 300MW plant at Qinshan, Zhejiang province (with the pressure vessel supplied by Mitsubishi), has served the Shanghai area since 1991. Over the past 10 years, the plant has produced 16.5bn kWh hours of electricity. It was shut down for 14 months for major repairs from mid-1998. Two more Chinese-built 610MW units – Qinshan phase 2 – recently began operating at the site. Nearly 90 percent of the components were domestically produced by the Shanghai No.1 Machine Tool Works, with Framatome technicians overseeing quality control.
China's own manufacturing capacity is for the small type of PWR plant operating at Qinshan, although it has also made some components for other plants. While the domestic industry does not yet have the ability to supply pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) for larger plants, Lingao will act as a learning experience as there is a major technology transfer element in the project. PHWR technology enables reactors to use natural uranium as fuel rather than having to enrich it. China's aim is to learn from foreign suppliers so that eventually large plants can be built indigenously.
AECL will be the main contractor for the Qinshan phase 3 project, where it will supply its CANDU-6 PHWR on a turnkey basis. The two 728MW reactors are scheduled for completion by 2003-04. The Canadian government said that the order is valued at US$3bn and will create thousands of jobs in Canada.
The People's Insurance Company of China has agreed to provide insurance worth Yn15bn for this phase of the Qinshan project, which has received a total investment of US$2.9bn, with majority funding provided by the state-run CNNC and minority funding from Zhejiang province. AECL is working in co-operation with a consortium comprising Bechtel and Hitachi and is already in preliminary discussions on two additional reactors for the site.
Progress at Tianwan plant
Work is also well advanced on the 2,120MW Tianwan nuclear plant in Jiangsu province. The first phase has two Russian-designed pressurised water VVER units with capacity of 1,060MW each. Installation of reactor containment facilities started in November 2001. Another two reactors planned for the second phase will bring the plant's total capacity to around 4,000MW. The reactors incorporate Siemens instrumentation and control systems together with Finnish safety features.
The three phases of Qinshan station and the Tianwan plant are expected to generate more than 30bn kWh of electricity annually, 15 times the current volume. Annual sales revenue is expected to hit Yn13bn. In 2004, when all 11 units are operational, nuclear power will provide some 8,350MW of electricity capacity.
CNNC has also reported the start of site works at Sanmen where two 1,000MW PWRs are to be built, although the technology base for these remains undefined. CNNC has been working with Westinghouse to develop a Chinese standard three-loop design, but Framatome ANP has also been commending its CNP-1000 version, developed at Daya Bay and Lingao, which has a high burnup and a refuelling cycle of up to 24 months. Clearly, the scramble for Chinese nuclear business will become more intense in the coming years as Western and Russian companies compete for a share of the market.