HomeWorld RegionsAsiaNuclear power in China: How the Red Dragon will lead the world

Nuclear power in China: How the Red Dragon will lead the world


Work continues on an AP1000 reactor at Sanmen. Source: Westinghouse

To say China’s aim of 60 GW of new nuclear in operation by 2020 is ambitious is an understatement. By speaking with the people at the centre of this project, both government officials and executives from the foreign firms that are supplying the technology, Penny Hitchin reports how China aims to achieve this goal.

Penny Hitchin

China will have 70 GW of nuclear power by 2020,” said Shen Wenquan, a senior engineer, and member of the Expert Committee of China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation.

His eyes twinkled at my obvious surprise as I double-checked I had heard the figure correctly. Yes, he confirmed, China has increased its ambitions for new nuclear build and now plans to add over 60 GW to its current 10 GW nuclear capacity by 2020. “Nuclear is of the utmost importance in solving our energy problems of security and decarbonizaton,” he said.

Between 2010 and 2020 China plans to build six reactors per year. Currently 33 GW is in construction and will be operating by 2015. Between 2015 and 2020 the plan is to accelerate, reducing the construction period for new reactors from six to four years. The expansion plans continue with 200 GW for 2030 and 400 GW by 2050.

With the latest Generation III nuclear reactor designs from Areva and Westinghouse yet to receive full certification from regulators in Europe and the US; with finite global capacity to produce large forgings and other key components; with skills shortages and uncertainty over the availability of capital, nowhere else would this rate of expansion be remotely possible.

Part of the strategic drive for nuclear power in China is the Nuclear Self Reliance Programme. China is determined that its nuclear expansion will employ Chinese scientists and technicians and, wherever possible, use the Chinese supply chain to manufacture the plant and fuel.

An extensive programme of technology transfer and manufacturing development has been under way to ensure that the mainstay of the forthcoming Chinese nuclear development will be the CPR1000 (Chinese Pressure Water Reactor), derived from a French design used in China’s first power stations, and a localized version of the Westinghouse 1200 MW AP1000 (known as the CAP1000). Further down the line there may also be 1400 MW versions of both reactors.

International technology used to develop first Chinese nuclear power stations

China used French, Russian and Canadian designs to kick-start its commercial nuclear power programme. The first commercial nuclear power station started generating in China in 1994. Since then the policy of steadily increasing local involvement means that China’s nuclear experts have accumulated experience in R&D, design, construction and operation of 300 MW, 600 MW and 1000 MW plants. However, accelerating the nuclear construction programme requires bringing in more foreign assistance initially.

The first nuclear plants were all constructed on the east coast of China to serve industrial centres. The first commercial reactors were built at Daya Bay in Guangdong province. The reactors are 994 MW, three-loop French pressurized water reactor (PWR) units supplied by Framatome (now Areva), with GEC-Alstom supplied steam turbines.

The construction was managed by French utility EDF working with Chinese engineers. Construction started in August 1987, and commercial operation of the two units commenced in February and May 1994. This was followed by long outages in 1994″96, when major components were replaced by Framatome.

At Ling Ao, which adjoins Daya Bay, two more reactors were constructed using the same technology but with 30 per cent localization. The Ling Ao reactors started generating commercially in 2002 and 2003. The reactors, now designated CPR1000, can now be entirely manufactured in China, including the pressure vessels and large forgings. Some software and fuel fabrication is under licence from France, and the terms of the licence mean that the design cannot be exported.

The Tianwan Phase I at Lianyungang in Jiangsu province is a Russian designed AES-91 power plant consisting of two 1060 MW VVER reactors, built under a co-operation agreement between China and Russia. The first unit entered commercial operation in June 2007, with the second following it on line in August 2007.

Work is due to start at the Tianwan site this year to construct two more VVER-1000 reactors (Tianwan 3 & 4) and two VVER-1200 reactors (Tianwan 5 & 6). There are also plans to build two reactors of another Russian design, the BN-800 fast neutron reactor, at Sanming inland in Fujian province. Construction is due to start in 2013 and the first unit is to be in operation in 2019, with the second following a year later. The target for localization is 70 per cent.

Chinese designed and built 300 mw & 600 MW PWRs

China’s first ‘home-grown’ nuclear power plant was a 300 MW PWR (CNP-300) built at Qinshan, 100 km southwest of Shanghai. The Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research & Design Institute (SNERDI) was responsible for the design.

Construction took six-and-a-half years with commercial generation starting in 1994. Qinshan 1 was shutdown for 14 months for significant repairs from mid-1998, and again in October 2007 for a major upgrade. The entire instrument and control system was replaced, along with the reactor pressure vessel head and control rod drives. This is the reactor design that China has exported to Pakistan, building two of the 300 MW units at Chashma in Punjab.

Another SNERDI design, a 600 MW PWR (CNP-600) was built at Qinshan for Phase II. The first unit entered commercial operation in April 2002 and the second in May 2004. For Units 3 & 4, the CNP-600 PWR has been upgraded to produce 650 MW and localization has been increased to over 70 per cent. The construction period was scheduled to take 53 months and Unit 3 was connected to the grid in August 2010, with full commercial operation due next year.

China looked to Canada for reactor designs for Qinshan Phase III. This consists of two 665 MW Candu 6 pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR), designed by Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL). AECL was the main contractor of the project on a turnkey basis. Construction began in 1997 and Unit 1 started up in September 2002 and Unit 2 in April 2003. However, the PHWR units are not likely to be replicated.

Lin Chegge of SNPT’s Expert Committee said: “Based on our standardization policy, China is dedicated to develop PWRs. There is no intention to construct additional Candu reactors.” Lin adds China wants to standardize Generation II reactors over the three designs CPR1000, CPR600 and CPR300. In Generation III the AP1000 reactor will be the standard, he said. “We will make improvements as the programme develops and we learn from experience,” he added.

Modular construction/localization is the key to rapid build of new fleet

Following State Council approval in September 2004 for the construction of Generation III reactors at Sanmen and Yangjiang, an open bidding process was started. Reactor vendors Westinghouse (AP1000), Areva (EPR) and Atomstroyexport (VVER-1000 model V-392) bid for the contracts.

The State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) was responsible for selecting the technology. Bids were assessed on the technology and the degree to which it was proven, as well as price, local content and technology transfer. Willingness to transfer the technology was a key priority in assessing the bids, as the Chinese strategy is to move swiftly towards domestic production of the new reactors.

The Westinghouse AP1000 came out of the bidding process as the clear winner and at the end of 2006, a decision was taken to build four units of the Westinghouse AP1000. After some changes in the locations, sites at Sanmen (in Guandong) and Haiyang (in Shandong), were selected for two AP1000s.

William Poirier, Westinghouse’s VP for Nuclear Plants, China, said: “The Chinese studied the AP1000 very carefully before they made the decision to go with it. The combination of the fact that it is relatively simple and its modular construction means that it is possible to build a large number of the AP1000 plants in a very short time. I think it’s not yet well understood how beneficial the modularization is going to be in building a large number of plants as long as you can set-up the infrastructure, which China can.”

More than 50 of China’s proposed new nuclear reactors look likely to be AP1000s (or CAP1000s, as they are likely to be known).

The Westinghouse AP1000 contracts

An agreement was signed at the end of February 2007 between Westinghouse and SNPTC to build four AP1000 units within 16 months of each other. These will be the first AP1000s to be built anywhere. The official start of construction at Sanmen 1 was the first concrete pour in March 2009. The first fuel loading is targeted for May 2013, with generation later that year. Sanmen 2 will follow ten months later, with the Haiyang units coming online in 2014 and 2015.

Westinghouse signed three contracts with separate provisions, said Poirier. “One is the nuclear island contract which is a standard contract to build the nuclear power plant,” he said.

“The second contract is for fuel and that’s a standard contract to provide fuel. The third contract is a comprehensive technology transfer contract. We will provide the China side with technical information, design analysis and other supporting information so that they have everything that they need to go ahead and build AP1000s themselves in China in the future.”

An EPR reactor from Areva, which is building two pairs of 1650 MW reactors at Taishan 1 & 2 Source: Areva

The AP1000 technology transfer is going on in parallel with current construction at Sanmen and Haiyang. Westinghouse is transferring around 60 000 documents and providing training classes to a range of Chinese scientists and technicians. It also established a job shadowing programme where 120 core operating staff at the four stations spend two months doing internships at operating US nuclear power plants.

On the first two AP1000s, Westinghouse is responsible for supplying the heavy units and key components. The reactor vessels and steam generators are sub-contracted to Doosan Heavy Industries of South Korea, which has itself signed technology transfer contracts with suppliers in China through SNPTC.

US company Curtiss Wright is providing pumps for the first four units, with a parallel technology transfer contract between the firm and two manufacturers in China. By the third unit, Westinghouse’s role will be as an independent auditor reviewing the completed work and records kept for the key components, notably the steam generators and reactor vessels.

The pressure vessels for the third and fourth units are being made by Chinese manufacturers: China First Heavy Industries (CFHI) for Sanmen 2 and Shanghai Electric Group Corporation (SEC) for Haiyang 2. The four steam generators for the first two units are being manufactured by Doosan Heavy Industries in South Korea, although the four steam generators for Sanmen 2 and Haiyang 2 are being manufactured by domestic suppliers: Harbin Power Equipment Co Ltd (HPEC) and SEC.

Contracts signed for two EPRs at Taishan site ” capacity for up to six reactors

Although Areva did not win the bid for the first four Generation III units, in 2007 it signed contracts for two 1650 MW EPRs (Evolutionary Power Reactor) to be built at Taishan on China’s southeast coast.

Taishan could potentially accommodate up to six EPRs, although to date contracts have been signed only for the first pair. These were commissioned by a joint venture formed between the EDF (30 per cent) and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company (CGNPC). The Guangdong Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company Limited (TNPJVC) is overseeing construction, and will then own and operate the two EPRs at Taishan.

Reactor vendor Areva is responsible for the nuclear island design and procurement, and is leader of a consortium with two subsidiaries of CGNPC for procurement and design.

“We signed contracts in November 2007 for completion in 76 months,” said Thierry Rolland, Areva’s director of EPR projects China.

“We are halfway through and we are totally on time for the civil work and the design and the procurement is on time.” Manufacturing is nearly on schedule although there have been some difficulties with sub-contractors, he added.

Rolland says that Taishan 1 construction is on schedule for the plant to be operational at the end of 2013. Areva has found that with each project ” Taishan 1 is the third EPR to be built ” there is a return on experience, and Taishan Unit 2 is ahead of its 2015 schedule.

Supply chain procedures

Rolland says that at the beginning of negotiations it was expected that more than 70 per cent of the components would be sourced in China, but it proved more difficult to find suppliers who could meet the schedule for Unit 1. Areva therefore turned to Europe and the suppliers who had provided components for the two earlier EPR builds at Olkiluoto and Flamanville.

Rolland continues: “When you sub-contract for manufacturing components in China you have to find one institute for the design and one company for the manufacturing. In China it is forbidden for the same company to do the design and the manufacture.

“With the tight schedule it was nearly impossible to find first a design and then a manufacturing company in accordance with the time schedule for the more complicated components like cranes, heat pumps or heat exchangers. In the case of some valves, pumps and tanks, we had enough time to get the design and manufacture completed locally.”

All the primary components for Taishan 1 were built in Europe, but for Unit 2 they are all built in China. Site levelling is currently taking place for Taishan 3 & 4. Rolland says: “For sure the project is going ahead. Levelling is prepared and the customer is preparing the orders to launch the project.” The situation with Taishan 5 & 6 is less clear as there is currently no agreement from Beijing and the Chinese authorities.

As well as contracts for the nuclear island engineering and procurement, and for supplying fuel for 20 years, a joint venture was created in December 2009 to ensure transfer of the technology for the nuclear island. Transfer of Areva technology started earlier as documents were handed over to enable management of the CPR1000. However, Areva retains full property rights, and the joint venture cannot build EPRs outside China. At present the only plans to build Chinese EPRs are at Taishan.

The EPRs being built at Taishan have slight differences from the European reactors under construction in Finland and France.

The temperature of the cooling water in the China Sea is around 34 oC ” at least 10 oC higher than the temperature at Flamanville in Normandy, so the cooling shell design has been modified. Areva believes that this modification to the design to cater for warmer air and cooling water will be useful elsewhere in the world as orders come in.

Can the local supply chain meet demand?

SNTPC announced early 2010 that ten supply-chain companies had qualified to provide equipment for Generation III nuclear plants. One is CFHI, among just three steel firms worldwide in having a 15 000 tonne press for large forgings such as Generation III pressure vessels.

The SNTPTC experts are confident that China can build the capacity and quality produce all the components for Generation III reactors locally. Three bases have been established ” in northeast China, in Shanghai, and in Sichuan ” for the manufacturing of heavy equipment including steam generators and forgings.

These will initially give a capacity of four complete sets of heavy equipment per annum, to be expanded first to five and then incrementally to eight. Areva’s Rolland welcomes the extra capacity, pointing out that Areva’s current capacity is insufficient to meet all the potential contracts in the world, creating a gap that the Chinese supply chain could bridge.

Asked about quality assurance, Shen and Lin acknowledged that the manufacturing failure rates are higher than in the West, but said that they are improving. Lin says, “The cooling pump is the most difficult part. However domestic manufacture has now started and it will get better.”

Westinghouse has worked with local suppliers to help them achieve American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) certification. Poirier says the quality is generally acceptable although there are occasions when parts are rejected ” but that can also be the case with established suppliers making the challenging components. “Like any organization doing something for the first time, there is a learning curve,” added Lin.

Part of the technology transfer contract means helping the Chinese suppliers align with key suppliers. Doosan, Curtiss Wright and other suppliers themselves have technology transfer contracts with suppliers in China through SNPTC to help train the Chinese to manufacture to the required standard.

SNPTC takes the lead on future AP1000 projects

In August 2010 notable milestones in the plan for Chinese nuclear self-sufficiency were passed when contracts were signed between SNPTC and CGNPC for the first inland AP1000 project at Xianning, Hubei province. SNPTC will lead construction for future plant owner CGNPC and a range of manufacturers will supply components.

Westinghouse was not involved in the contracts, although its engineering partner Shaw is contracted to provide “technical support services, which include engineering and design management, project controls, quality assurance, construction management and project management, as well as health, safety and environmental management.

This is the first contract under Shaw’s long-term strategic cooperation agreement with SNPTC and would also create China’s first inland nuclear power station.

Chinese nuclear plans not deterred by finance issues

The nature of nuclear new build means that the expenses are heavily front-loaded: high capital expenditure is required before there is any prospect of generating a return. The cost of building a Generation III reactor runs into billions of dollars and to date no AP1000 or EPR has yet been completed and started generating.

The contract for the two Taishan EPRs (including fuel supply) was reported in 2007 as €8 billion ($12 billion), with the two nuclear reactors themselves at €3.5 billion. The 2007 Westinghouse contract for the four AP100s was reported as valued at $5.3 billion. Recently the figure for four new AP1000s at Xianning was put at 60 billion RMB ($8.8 billion).

The progressive localization of suppliers for Taishan Unit 1 and Unit 2

Billions more will be needed to finance the projected new build. However, China has not been hit by the global financial recession in the same way as the West and Professor Hoa Dongqin, an expert with SNPTC, said that he did not anticipate problems in financing new nuclear build.

Hoa says domestic projects must first win approval from central government and then seek investment. He believes that new nuclear build has a good record in China and will be able to get investment from the banks.

State commitment to nuclear new build has seen the technology brought in-house and the rapid development of the supply chain. The Chinese economy is growing at 10 per cent per annum and is already second only to that of the United States.

If the state plans for nuclear energy are realized ” and it seems nothing short of a major nuclear incident will stop them ” the 21st century will see China overtake the USA, France, Russia and Japan and everyone else to become the world’s leading generator of nuclear energy.

Penny Hitchin is a freelance journalist who writes on nuclear matters.

More Power Engineering International Issue Articles
Power Engineering International Archives
View Power Generation Articles on PennEnergy.com