World nuclear power: The focus remains on Asia

With one of the highest economic growth rates on the planet, Asia is expected to almost double its nuclear capacity by 2020

By Steven E. Kuehn

Power Generation Editor

Although the world nuclear power industry may appear moribund to the casual observer, recent plant starts and continued strong ordering and construction activity in Asia point to a long period of growth and opportunity for nuclear power in the region. Supporting this pleasant forecast is the World Energy Council`s (WEC) prediction that Asian countries are going to need a total of 720 GW of installed capacity by 2010 to satisfy industrial expansion and economic growth. Currently, installed capacity is set at about 500 GW with energy sources divided among the usual cast of characters: coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, new renewables and traditional sources. What`s interesting is that WEC projects nuclear, natural gas and new renewables` share of the pie to double, while oil and gas will decline slightly–mostly at the expense of traditional sources such as wood, which they predict to shrink by almost half.

Nuclear power`s future in the region looks even more promising when one considers the availability and distribution of primary energy supplies. The area has about 4 percent of the world`s oil reserves, 6 percent of its natural gas reserves and about 27 percent of the world`s proven coal reserves. However, most of these supplies are concentrated in three countries–China, Indonesia and Malaysia. China, which has one of the world`s most ambitious fledgling nuclear power programs, has charted such a course because much of its natural resources are located in remote parts of the country and the infrastructure required to transport fossil fuels to the more economically active areas of the country is just not available. So, despite an inherent lack of natural resources in the region, rapid economic growth continues under the aegis of nuclear power.

Where the action is

The majority of world nuclear power plant construction is occurring in Asia right now. In a March 1995 editorial, Nuclear News` editor-in-chief, Nancy J. Zacha, said that of the 12 countries worldwide with plants under construction, five are in Asia–China, Japan, Korea, India and Pakistan. Those five represent 56 percent of all units under construction around the globe, and the only countries with plans to boost nuclear capacity to any great degree beyond plants currently under construction are Asian.

The Energy Information Administration`s (EIA) World Nuclear Outlook 1994 offered some other statistics worth noting. As of December 1993, the Far East region accounted for 15 percent of total world nuclear capacity. The publication also noted that the region`s 65 operable units have a total capacity of 51.3 GW and projects additional capacity of 22.8 GW in the low case and 34.4 GW in the high case by 2010, for annual growth rates of 2.2 percent and 3.1 percent respectively. At the time the data was collected, 34 units were under construction; and if all went according to plan, Asia`s share of world nuclear capacity would rise to 18.1 percent. The downside to all of this, according to the EIA, is that there is some opposition by the general public to nuclear power in the region.


Japan has a nuclear program that might just be the envy of this part of the world. The latest statistics find the country with about 15 units planned or under construction and 49 units producing more than 40 GW of power. Recent starts include Kashiwazaki-Kariwa-4; Genkai-3; Ikata-3; and Onagawa-2, an 800-MW boiling-water reactor (BWR), which began operation July 28. Japan`s Monju fast reactor generated electricity for the first time in August after a rocky year of initial operational trials. Industry sources said the loop-type, sodium-cooled 280-MW fast reactor is now likely to start commercial operation in 1996.

Speaking at the International Conference On Nuclear Engineering (ICONE-3) in April of this year, Akira Oyama, Japan`s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) vice chairman, said the country`s energy administrators want to reduce Japan`s reliance on fossil fuel and boost the share of nuclear power to 12 percent by 2000 and 17 percent by 2010. That translates into an increase to about 45 GW, or 5 GW in the next five years and about 70 GW by 2010.

He remarked that construction on such a scale is not without its share of headaches. “While the production capacity of three Japanese light water reactor (LWR) vendors is sufficient enough, the siting of nuclear power plants is not easy.” Not easy indeed. Japan`s Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the group that regulates the country`s utilities, and utilities themselves have resorted to packages of lower rates and other direct and indirect compensation to residents near proposed power plant sites in an effort to win the public support needed to acquire future plant sites.

Fuel cycle developments

Japan has, for many years, worked toward closing the fuel cycle, and the best evidence of this course is Monju`s approaching commercial operation. However, recent developments have prompted Japan`s AEC to revise and moderate the ambitious capacity and fuel-recycling goals in its long-range plan in the face of growing public anxiety on plutonium, safety issues and radioactive waste.

For example, plans for the country`s first fuel-reprocessing facility have been pushed back into the next century, and the decision to go ahead with a second won`t be made until 2010. Meanwhile, institutional measures to permit the use of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in Japan`s LWR have been authorized, and MOX fuel is expected to be sourced from European reprocessing facilities. In an effort to avoid stockpiles of plutonium, Japan will limit its production and procurement to what it can use to fuel Monju, its other research reactors and for MOX to fuel LWRs. The AEC is also pursuing a more open policy of disclosure on its plutonium-processing activities to garner domestic public support and international acceptance of its peaceful intent to advance this portion of its energy self-sufficiency goals.

A planned demonstration unit of the AEC`s plutonium-burning advanced thermal reactor (ATR) concept has been shelved in the wake of the country`s atomic introspection as well. A report in the October issue of Nuclear News said the change in plans came in the face of increasing pressure from Japan`s utilities, arguing that such a plant is not economically feasible in light of recent cost estimates being three times greater than that of recent commercial designs. The design was intended to use plutonium produced by Japan`s fast breeder reactors (Monju and others); but since plans for that type have been scaled back, ATR development lost its incentive to continue. A counter proposal by the Federation of Electric Power Companies calls for the construction of a MOX-burning advanced boiling-water reactor (ABWR) at the original ATR demonstration site.

So, despite a slight scaling back of its long-range plans, Japan continues to promote and rely on nuclear power to fuel its economic future. Plans and proposals for new plants continue apace, and the world`s first ABWRs at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa are on track as well. Site activity is extremely busy, and full-power testing and commercial operation of Unit 6 may occur sooner than expected. Unit 7 construction is also well under way, and there has not been the slightest indication that Tokyo Electric Power Co. and its group of primary contractors (Toshiba, Hitachi and General Electric) will not meet construction schedule goals. All recent information confirms that Japan intends to be one of the pre-eminent nuclear power producers and that they expect to rely on LWR technology for the foreseeable future, reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and intend to continue nuclear fusion research as well.


Although China did not have an operating commercial nuclear power facility until 1991, the country is well on its way to developing nuclear power as one of its primary sources of energy. At ICONE-3, Zhao Ren-Kai, Commission of Science and Technology China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) vice president, presented his country`s plans for nuclear power development and the reasons motivating China`s ambitious program.

Ready for more power

According to Zhao, the developing speed of the national economy and the country`s energy requirements have defined the basic guiding principles of China`s nuclear power development policy. He explained that, as a whole, nuclear power would be developed in unison with fossil-fired and hydroelectric generating sources in a step-by-step fashion. But, in view of the fact that the southeast coastal region has the most developed economy and that natural resources are not abundant enough in the region to support their use as an energy resource, nuclear power would have to be developed to support the region power needs.

Zhao characterized the program as doing its best to master the technology and lay the ground work for an even bigger program in the future. He said that China wants to rely on its own resources to do this, but in a way that pivots on international cooperation. Ultimately, Zhao said, the country would like to export its version of nuclear technology to developing countries in the region.

As nuclear power technology develops, said Zhao, China`s policy will always be safety and quality first. China has created a national supervisory body called the China National Nuclear Safety Administration, which is independent of the CNNC to guarantee that every element of a nuclear power plant project is in compliance with internationally accepted safety standards.

In general, China`s nuclear power development strategy will have three stages. The first stage involves developing thermal nuclear power stations with proven technology and good economic benefits. In conjunction with the first stage, China wants to explore emerging nuclear technology such as the advanced pressurized-water reactors (PWRs); high temperature, gas-cooled reactors; and low-temperature process heat reactors. The second stage involves closing the fuel cycle with breeder-type reactors, and the third stage embraces fusion as China`s energy source of the future.

Here and now

Currently, China is operating three units: the 300-MW pressurized water reactor at Qinshan and two 950-MW units, Guangdong 1 and 2 near Daya Bay. According to Zhao, Qinshan has had a very satisfying operating record with a load factor of 66.7 percent from the time of its initial fuel loading on Aug. 8, 1991, and its first refueling outage beginning Oct. 21, 1994.

Daya Bay Unit 1 has had some problems with sluggish control rods, and Framatome has been extremely busy working to resolve the issue. A Nuclear News report in July said that Framatome`s first attempt at fixing the problem involved loading a completely new set of fuel rods with an improved surface coating. By July, however, the real problem had been identified. Apparently, modifications to control vibration problems had the undesired effect of slowing control-rod drop and increasing wear as well. The solution involved installing a new set of rods with the old design. Meanwhile, the site`s Unit 2 underwent a refueling outage that included control-rod modifications and a reload of Chinese-manufactured fuel.

As of April 1995, Zhao said China has two more nuclear power stations under construction. The first is Qinshan Phase 2, which involves two more 600-MW PWRs. So far, the basic designs have been approved, and detailed design work is under way. Construction began with the first pour of concrete in June, and the scheduled completion date for Unit 1 is 2001 and 2002 for Unit 2. Negotiations with the French for Daya Bay Phase 2 are concluding, and it is likely that construction of those units will start soon, especially if the 2001 and 2002 start dates mentioned in Zhao`s presentation are to be met.

Zhao`s remarks also included some information regarding negotiations and plans for importing other countries` nuclear technology to China. According to Zhao, an agreement with the Russians has been made to construct two VVR (PWR)-type reactors at Liaoning and with the Canadians to construct two CANDU units at the Qinshan site.

Ultimately, China`s nuclear program depends on quite a few things falling into place and hinges on the country`s ability to finance such projects. More than a few industry sources find that China`s economic situation, its political system and the present direction of its leadership may not have the strength to support its ambitious plans for nuclear power development after the turn of the century.

Republic of Korea

Natural resources are not a strong suit for the Republic of Korea either, and for that reason, nuclear power has played a key role in the economic development of the country. Korea projects load demand to increase about 6 percent annually and looks to nuclear power to supply just under 40 percent of the country`s power by 2006. Korea now has 11 operating nuclear units, 10 PWRs and one CANDU. The most recent, Yonggwang-3, went on-line in March; and Yonggwang-4, which attained full-power operational status in August, is scheduled to begin commercial operation this December, three months ahead of schedule. Conceptual plans for Yonggwang 5 and 6 are well under way as well. Designs for those units have been finalized, and Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) recently signed contracts with several Korean suppliers.

KEPCO, the only electric utility in Korea, has pursued a policy of nuclear power self-reliance, and Yonggwang 3 and 4 were developed with most of the contracts executed with local contractors. These aforementioned units, based on ABB-CE`s System 80 design, form the Korean standard design, which is also the basis for two more units under construction–Ulchin 3 and 4. Ulchin`s Units 3 and 4 are about 50 percent complete, and commercial operation is planned for 1998 and 1999 respectively. According to KEPCO, Korea will attain nuclear power self-sufficiency with the completion of the two Yonggwang units.

CANDU reactor construction is also under way at Korea`s Wolsung site. Three units (2, 3 and 4) are currently under construction with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) the primary contractor. The three new units are slated to begin operation 1997, 1998 and 1999 respectively. AECL has also entered into an agreement to transfer this reactor-type`s technology as part of Korea`s overall plan of nuclear self-reliance. Presently, KEPCO`s plans include another two PWR units at the Ulchin site slated for operation sometime after 2004 and another three CANDU reactors operational by 2006.


Also experiencing rapid industrialization is the island nation of Taiwan. The EIA said Taiwan`s state-owned utility, Taiwan Power Co., plans to add 19 GW of capacity to meet load demand projected to average 6 percent annually. Meeting demand right now are six units at three stations. Consisting of four BWRs and two PWRs, Taiwan`s nuclear fleet is currently generating about 4,890 MW, about 33 percent of the country`s electricity generation.

In 1993, Taiwan Power Co. revived its Lungmen project and invited bids from major suppliers. Essentially a turnkey proposal, Westinghouse/Nuclear Electric, Framatome and ABB-CE had supplied bids for the project. Unfortunately, of the two companies that were qualified after the initial bid process, neither could meet the budget developed by Taiwan Power Co. Blaming the value of risk built into a turnkey bid, Taiwan Power Co. has unbundled the project and now is seeking bids on a component basis in an effort to trim supplier cost estimates and lower the bid to fit the budget. Critics of this strategy maintain that these tactics will do little to lower the project`s overall costs and that Taiwan Power Co. needs to re-evaluate its numbers to reflect current plant construction economics.

In a paper published in the June issue of Nuclear News by Taiwan Power Co. Vice President Walter W. L. Shen, load forecasts call for an additional 22,503 MW by 2006. He said that the existing four power plant sites can accommodate up to 20 units, but any future expansion depends on whether or not the Lungmen project can be revived and the two units planned for the site are constructed successfully.

India and Pakistan

India has an aggressive nuclear program that relies primarily on pressurized, heavy-water reactors (PHWR/CANDU) and BWRs. Currently the country has 10 operating units responsible for just under 2 GW of total installed capacity. Another seven units are in the construction pipeline. According to the EIA, if all planned units eventually go on-line, India may add another 2 GW of total nuclear capacity. With load demand growing at approximately 8 percent, nuclear power development is likely to continue because fossil-based energy resources are limited. India also agreed to supply the Koreans with 100 metric tons of heavy water for its Wolsung units.

India`s most recent plant start is the second unit at Kakrapar, a 235-MW PHWR with enhanced safety features and double containment based on India`s standard design pioneered at the Narora site in Utar Pradesh. India is also busy constructing more of these standard 235-MW units at several sites and has plans to construct 500-MW designs after that.

Pakistan currently generates only about 1 percent of its electricity with nuclear power via a 125-MW PHWR, but the government`s goals include more nuclear development to help achieve economic aspirations. The country`s one unit has been operating near Karachi since 1971 and was constructed by the Canadians on a turnkey basis. In an article by Simon Rippon in the June issue of Nuclear News, he reported that the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle has now been established and that a sufficient base in nuclear engineering has been built up to manufacture spare parts and other operating necessities for that reactor. Rippon`s report also included information on Chasma (also known as Chasnupp), a 300-MW PWR scheduled for commercial operation in 1999. Rippon said the unit is making reasonable progress and that there is some discussion regarding a second unit at the site to be built following the Chinese Qinshan model.

Asian star

To a great degree, Asia has hitched its power generation wagon to a nuclear star, and while fossil fuel-fired energy will also see continued development in the region, nuclear power is increasingly being viewed as a quick, but permanent, way to satisfy fast-moving economic/industrial development. Nuclear power is also being recognized as the environmentally sound alternative fossil plants as well, viewed as a way to save the environment from the degradation caused by burning coal and oil, in spite of rapid industrialization.

Click here to enlarge image

Guangdong units 1 and 2, China`s second and third nuclear units located near Daya Bay, have been in commercial service for about a year.

Click here to enlarge image

Korea Electric Power Corp.`s Yonggwang plant is just about fully operational, with Unit 4 ready for commercial operation three months ahead of schedule.

Click here to enlarge image

Click here to enlarge image

Guangdong Unit 1 receiving its first load of fuel about two years ago. Chinese-manufactured fuel now powers both units.

Click here to enlarge image

Tokyo Electric Power Corp.`s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Unit 5 (photo by Steven E. Kuehn).

Click here to enlarge image

Kashiwazaki-KariwaUnits 6 and 7 under construction late April 1995 (photo by Steven E. Kuehn).

Click here to enlarge image

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Unit 6 pressure vessel head (photo by Steven E. Kuehn).