China's nuclear power industry is entering a new round of fast development, featuring independent construction, plant imports and Chinese-foreign cooperation.
In late July 2004, the Chinese government officially approved the construction of two new nuclear power projects totaling four 1,000-megawatt generating sets in Guangdong and Zhejiang respectively, provinces suffering from power shortages. This is part of China's plans to expand nuclear power generating capacity to meet growing energy needs in the world's fastest growing economy.
Construction of the country's first two nuclear power plants, located respectively at Daya Bay near Hong Kong and Qinshan to the south of Shanghai, began in the mid-1980s.
So far, China has six nuclear power plants, with nine generating sets in operation and two under construction. Nuclear power at present accounts for just 2.3 percent of China's total electricity output, compared with a world average of 16 percent. It is the third most important method of electricity generation in China, following thermal power and hydropower.
As the country's economy keeps developing at a rapid pace, the power bottleneck is having a negative impact on further growth.
National demand for power has increased by about 16 percent in the first six months of this year over the same previous period. Industry officials estimate power shortage nationwide exceeds 20 million kilowatts this year. Frequent power cutoffs in many places call people's attention to the need to develop more nuclear power.
Today, China ranks as the world's second biggest generator of electric power in terms of capacity and output. But uneven geographical distribution of resources causes a host of difficulties. Coal, the main energy source in China, is mainly produced in the northern parts of the country and hydropower is mostly found in the southwest, but power consumption is concentrated in the coastal regions in the east and south.
The shipment of coal over long distances adds extra burdens to the nation's transportation system and the environment.
Under these circumstances, developing nuclear power has become a natural choice, for a more balanced development of the national economy and for the environment, industry officials say.
Beginning from 2003, national power development plans begin to cover nuclear power, signifying its elevated status in China. This has caught great attention from the global nuclear power industry, which has been developing slowly for the last two decades.
A national plan calls for increasing China's nuclear generating capacity to 36,000 mw by 2020, up from 8,700 mw today. The proportion of nuclear power in total national power output is expected to go up from 2.3 percent at present to four percent. If the plan is to be fulfilled, China needs to approve the construction of at least two 1,000 mw nuclear power units each year from 2004 onwards. This means building one nuclear power plant of the Daya Bay type annually in the next 16 years.
"This marks a transition for China's nuclear power industry, from 'appropriate' development of the past to accelerated development in the future," said Han Wenke, deputy director of the Institute of Energy Sources under the National Development and Reform Commission, a super ministry in charge of national economic affairs.
"China gives priority to independent construction of nuclear power projects," says Kang Rixin, president of China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC).
Qinshan, located in the coastal Zhejiang province, is the first domestically designed and constructed nuclear power plant in the country. Construction of the plant in phase 1 started in 1985 and it became operational by the end of 1991. So far, Qinshan, Phase 1, with a 300 mw pressurized light water reactor (PWR) has been in sound operation for 10 years, producing nearly 17 billion kwh of electricity cumulatively.
Qinshan, Phase II, installed with two 600 mw PWRs, represents a big step forward in terms of self-design and localized production of equipment. Construction started in mid-1996. The No.1 generating set started commercial operation in April 2002, and the
No.2 generating set in May this year. All 55 major components, including the pressure vessel, steam generator, in-core internals, turbine generator and main transformer, were designed jointly with foreign firms with the exception of eight. It is roughly estimate that the rate of production localization for equipment is over 50 percent for Unit one and over 60 percent for Unit two.
Through the construction of Qinshan, Phase II, China has had greater confidence in localized development of nuclear power. It now follows the principle of "relying mainly on our own efforts while pursuing foreign cooperation," Kang Rixin says. A flexible cooperation mode that includes joint design and technology introduction has been adopted to achieve the goal of autonomous design for 1,000 mw PWR nuclear power units and lay a foundation for transition to more advanced nuclear power plants.
China has imported eight of its eleven existing nuclear power generating sets, or 7,200 mw of the 8,700 mw capacity, that are either in operation or under construction. They come from France, Canada and Russia. Qinshan is the only plant installed with homemade generators.
"It is impractical to rely on importing complete plants for a large-scale development of the nuclear power industry," says Yu Jianfeng, director of CNNC's Nuclear Power Department. "Localization helps to reduce construction and maintenance costs, improve operational safety and enhance the competitiveness of nuclear power."
Electric power generated by Qinshan, Phase two, is currently priced at 0.414 yuan/kwh (US$0.0499), a record low for the nuclear power sector. It is able to compete against thermal power priced at 0.4 yuan/kwh (US$0.0482) at present.
In terms of construction cost, fully imported nuclear power plants are over 30 percent higher than domestically designed and constructed ones. The construction cost of the first two phases of Qinshan is US$1,330 /kw, compared with US$2,000 /kw for plants imported in the same period.
Industry officials say that equipment expenses account for about one half of total investment for nuclear power projects. Thus, independent design and production of plant and equipment is the key to reducing cost.
While targeting for independent construction, China has always espoused international cooperation for nuclear power development and peaceful utilization of nuclear energy.
Kang Rixin says China has signed agreements with a host of countries on the peaceful utilization of atomic energy. Trade, personnel exchanges and cooperation in technological development and equipment manufacture form part of these agreements. China is also cooperating with France, Russia, Canada and Japan in plant construction.
China imported a package of French equipment and management expertise in February 1994, and the two countries jointly constructed the Daya Bay plant. This is China's first cooperative project with a foreign country in the nuclear power field.
Cooperation with other countries has followed. Qinshan, Phase III, whose construction began in mid-1998, is powered by China's first heavy-water reactor, using Canadian technology. As the largest Sino-Canadian cooperation project, Qinshan Phase III is installed with two 700 mw generators.
The Third Qinshan Nuclear Power Co., owner of the plant, is responsible for maintenance and operation, while the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. conducts overall project management, including plant design, material supply, construction and trial run. The first generator started commercial operation in December 2002. The second commenced operation 112 days ahead of schedule in July of 2003, setting a world record for construction efficiency.
China and Russian have cooperated, too, in nuclear power development. Their joint project, the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant located in Lianyungang on the coast of Jiangsu, is expected to begin commercial operation this year. The construction began in October 1999, with two 1,000 mw units, the largest for a single phase so far in China.
Russia is responsible for technology, equipment supply and testing, while China undertakes most of the installation, manages project construction and is responsible for the design and procurement of equipment for accessory and supportive projects of the plant.
China expects to increase the rate of production localization for nuclear power equipment from 50 percent at present to over 70 percent in the next 3-4 years. This, according to industry officials, will pave the way for accelerated development to achieve the goal of having 36,000 mw in nuclear power generating capacity by 2020.
(Xinhua News Agency September 27, 2004)