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It Is An Ill Wind That Blow’s China’s Nuclear Industry No Good

CHINA’S STATE-OWNED heavy engineering firms are getting a liking for European renewables. China General Nuclear (CGN) Corp. has beaten out several rivals to acquire a controlling stake in three U.K. wind farms being sold by the French utility EDF.

This follows China Three Gorges Corporation acquisition of wind-generation capacity in Spain and Portugal to add to that it has in Pakistan. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), which also supervises CGN, owns 49% of the portfolio of wind assets belonging to the Norwegian state owned electricity company, Statkraft. This stake is held through SAFE’s U.K. investment arm, Ginko Tree Investment.

CGN, which generates more than half of China’s nuclear energy and was known as the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group until last year, paid an estimated $157 million for 80% of the three wind farms. EDF will retain the remaining 20% and continue to operate the facilities.

The three farms, all in eastern or north eastern England, are CGN’s first significant acquisition of onshore wind generating capacity outside China. It has a small interest in an Australian wind farm but set up a subsidiary earlier this year to acquire off- and onshore wind farms and solar projects in Europe. The U.K. government runs a subsidy scheme that requires energy utilities to buy a certain amount of electricity generated by renewables, which makes U.K. projects an attractive investment.

The generating capacity that CGN will be acquiring is relatively modest at 72 megawatts, sufficient to serve only 40,000 homes. By way of comparison, the group has installed generating capacity of some 7 gigawatts of solar, hydro and wind power in China plus 11.6 gigawatts of nuclear power.

Not that China’s nuclear companies are turning their back on nuclear despite industry’s post-Fukushima hiatus. CGN has another 3.9 gigawatts of capacity under construction in China and is involved in the negotiations over Hinkley Point C, a new $40 billion nuclear power plant EDF is planning to build in the west of England. That would be the first nuclear power plant built in Britain in a generation. CGN and China National Nuclear Corporation also want to build another nuclear plant in eastern England that would controversially use a Chinese built reactor.

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China’s Nuclear Power Program Gets Back On Track

Three policy documents concerning China’s nuclear power program surfaced last week: an energy white paper; the long-awaited new nuclear safety rules that come out of the review following the Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster in Japan in March last year; and the mid-to-long-term development plan for nuclear power. The State Council discussed the latter two, having approved the new safety rules in principle in late May, and approved the final versions of both documents.

Yet for all that we haven’t learnt much if anything that is new about China’s ambitious nuclear power program. Officials have been flagging since early this year that work was resuming on reactors under construction before the moratorium on building and new approvals imposed in the immediate aftermath of Fukushima Dai-Ichi pending the safety review. That would cover 25 sites plus eight approved by not started, four of which were due to break ground last year. It is unclear how much of the construction undertaken this year was safety or remedial work as opposed to new building. The line in the white paper that a ‘few’ plants would be built between now and 2015, likely covers some or all of the eight already approved, and two or three penciled in for 2013, even if some might be delayed for reasons we’ll mention later.

It has also been clear for some months that China plans to moderate in the short term the pace of its ambitious plans for adding nuclear power generation capacity. The pre-Fukushima Dai-Ichi plan had called for the current 12GW of installed capacity to be expanded to 70GW by 2020. The white paper said the target was now 40GW by 2015, a number that we have heard before. After 2015, the white paper said, China would return to what it called a normal pace of construction.

This Bystander’s thumb-in-the-air estimate on the basis of that would be that installed capacity will get to 60GW by 2020, with half as much capacity again under construction. A slowing of the program, to be sure, but not a drastic one. (At no point has there been any suggestion that China would step back from nuclear power as Japan is doing.)

Moving to more advanced third generation reactors from the second-generation ones that account for the bulk of China’s installed reactors, was highlighted in the white paper as a safety measure. Yet this was already a policy priority before Fukushima Dai-Ichi, along with the foreign technology transfers that goes along with it. Nor is there any escaping the fact that the installed base of second-generation plants is going to be around for decades, even if their flood and earthquake defences are shored up. However, unstarted projects planned with second-generation reactors will likely be put on ice until they can be upgraded to third-generation plants. Germany and Japanese nuclear companies will, no doubt, be falling over themselves to bid for work to replace their disappearing domestic order books.

Nor is the continuation of the moratorium on building plants inland new. Most of China’s nuclear plants are along its coasts, where the  the population and power demand is, and the coal fields that feed the coal-fired power stations that generate 70% of China’s electricity are far away. There were plans to build reactors in Hunan, Hubei and Jiangxi during the 2011-15 five year plan. All three were pushed back several years ago until after 2015, as has been a plant planned for Anhui. Other provinces such as Sichuan also want nuclear power plants, but haven’t got Beijing’s approval. Finance is an issue, but the main reason for the delays for all the inland reactors is concerns about the river pollution they could cause.

There is a another reason for slowing the pace of building new reactors. There aren’t enough trained nuclear workers and safety supervisors. China takes nuclear safety seriously, more so than, say, in the construction of its high-speed rail network, though the nuclear industry has had its corruption problems, too. Beijing has also taken note of what happens to political leaders to whom nuclear disasters befall.

While a nuclear workforce could be trained in relatively short order, developing a culture of safety in a country where industrial safety is only starting to take hold as a concept, will take time. It also takes at least four years to train nuclear regulators by world standards. The arithmetic says to meet even scaled-back goals China will need to quadruple the number it has by 2020. Financial capital is the easy part. Human capital is harder.

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Resumption Of China’s Nuclear Power Program Gets Closer

The Shanghai Securities News reports that new nuclear power safety regulations are about to be published, opening the door to a formal resumption of China’s reactor building program. A halt to construction and a review of the country’s ambitious nuclear reactor plans was ordered in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011.

The State Council signed off “in principle” on the safety proposals and the development plan for the country’s ambitious nuclear power program in June. New construction approvals are already being made, the paper says. In May, state media quoted an unnamed official saying that construction was already underway at 28 sites without giving details. That may have included corrective work deemed necessary by the safety review at plants that fell short of new earthquake and flood-control standards.

It is likely, however, that Beijing will proceed cautiously with expanding its capacity targets and may scale back its goal of having 70GW of power generation capacity by 2020. Current installed capacity is 12GW. (The World Nuclear Association has a list of existing and proposed plants here and a map of them here.)

This Bystander noted earlier this year that four or five new approvals for a further 5GW of capacity, costing 50 billion yuan ($7.8 billion) to build, would be given in short order, especially with the current desire to bring forward planned infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy. Some 20-30% of that sum could flow into order books this year.

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China Gives Green Light To Resume Nuclear Power Program

The working staff work at a control room for China's experimental fast neutron reactor, July 21, 2011. China's first experimental fast neutron reactor began, for the first time, generating electricity that goes into the grid on Thursday. The development and spread of the new technology is helpful for China to develop a sustainable nuclear power industry and set up an advanced fuel-recycling system, according to experts. (Xinhua)

The State Council has signed off “in principle” on China’s new nuclear safety proposals and the development plan for the country’s ambitious nuclear power program. This provides the green light for work to resume formally on plants under construction and for approvals to be granted for new plants, which include some of the world’s most advanced. Beijing put its nuclear program on hold pending the safety review initiated in the wake of the tsunami that so devastatingly struck Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station in March last year.

China has 14 operating nuclear reactors with a total capacity of 12GW, including that generated by its first experimental fast neutron reactor whose control room is seen in the photo above. There are at least 25 plants under construction, expected to raise capacity to 40GW by 2015. By 2020, nuclear power generation capacity is expected to reach 70GW. China’s long-term plans call for 5% of the country’s power to be generated by nuclear by 2020 and 10% by 2030, up from 1.2% in 2007.

Unlike Japan and Europe, China has just delayed, not scaled back its nuclear plans in the wake of the Fukushima  accident. Last December, the National Energy Administration said nuclear energy would be the foundation of China’s power generation over the next “10 to 20 years”, adding as much as 300 GW of capacity over that period. (The World Nuclear Association has a list of existing and proposed plants here and a map of them here.)

Earlier this year, Ren Jungshen, a nuclear safety expert at China’s Ministry of Environment Protection, said that China’s nuclear industry was on track to hit its capacity targets for 2015 and 2020, one of a series of comments by Chinese officials suggesting the program was about to resume. Late last month, state media quoted an unnamed official saying that construction was already underway at 28 sites without giving details. This may include corrective work that was deemed necessary by the safety review at plants that fell short of the new earthquake and flood-control standards.

This Bystander expects that four or five new approvals for a further 5GW of capacity, costing 50 billion yuan ($7.8 billion) to build, will be given in short order, especially with the current desire to bring forward planned infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy. Some 20-30% of that sum could flow into order books this year.

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China Powering Ahead With Nuclear Plant Construction

Half the 56 new nuclear power plants due to start commercial operation by 2015 are in China, according to the latest update of plants under construction by the World Nuclear Association. Unlike Japan and Europe, China hasn’t scaled back its nuclear plans in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident last year, just delayed them pending new safety regulations.

The association estimates that China’s 15 existing plants (the association includes one in Taiwan) have a capacity of 11,881 MWes. Its 26 plants under construction will add 27,640 MWes of capacity. A further 57,480 MWes of capacity is on the drawing board. It says:

In China, now with 14 operating reactors on the mainland, the country is well into the next phase of its nuclear power program. Some 26 reactors are under construction and many more are likely to be so in 2012. Those under construction include the world’s first Westinghouse AP1000 units, and a demonstration high-temperature gas-cooled reactor plant is due to start construction. Many more units are planned, with construction due to start within three years. But most capacity under construction will be the largely indigenous CPR-1000. China aims at least to quadruple its nuclear capacity from that operating and under construction by 2020.

Earlier this month, Ren Jungshen, a nuclear safety expert at China’s Ministry of Environment Protection, said that China’s nuclear industry was on track to hit its capacity targets for 2015 and 2020, the biggest hint to date that China’s nuclear power program was resuming.

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China’s Nuclear Program Post-Fukushima: Ready To Resume?

One year on from the tsunami that so devestatingly struck Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station, a Chinese official has given the strongest hint to date that China will soon resume its own nuclear power program. Ren Junsheng, a nuclear safety expert at China’s Ministry of Environment Protection, told a conference in Hong Kong marking the first anniversary of the Fukushima accident that “the Chinese nuclear industry still feels confident to meet the installed capacity targets of 40 million and 70 million kilowatts by 2015 and 2020 respectively”.

Ren’s comments follow those by Huang Wei, China’s deputy envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who says that China had taken a series of measures to enhance nuclear safety, including safety management, in the wake of the Fukushima accident. At an IAEA meeting earlier this month, Wei said China now has 15 nuclear units in operation and 26 units in construction. Preliminary results released after comprehensive examinations ended last August showed the safety of these units were guaranteed, he said. Not, we pray, famous last words.

In January, Wang Binghua, board chairman of the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., said that China’s first AP1000 nuclear power reactor, the Sanmen plant in Zhejiang, is expected to come into operation in 2013. That had been the clearest indication to date that China was planning to restart its nuclear power program. Ren and Wei’s comments suggest that the State Council’s review of China’s new nuclear safety proposals and the development program for the country’s ambitious nuclear program is imminent. Once the State Council has signed off, work will resume.

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China’s Nuclear Power Program To Resume Next Year

China’s nuclear power program, paused by the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year, looks set to resume next year. China’s first AP1000 nuclear power reactor, the Sanmen plant in Zhejiang, is expected to come into operation in 2013, Wang Binghua, board chairman of the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., said at the weekend.

Construction of China’s first third-generation pressurized water reactors started in 2009. They are the first to use AP1000 technologies developed by the U.S. engineering group Westinghouse. SNPTC has also hinted that a plant using China’s indigenous version of the technology, CAP1000, could also be in operation by next year.

China has 13 nuclear power plants of varied capacities and is building 27 more, mostly of 1,000mw capacity and using U.S., French and Japanese technologies. State media say that the State Council will ‘soon’ review safety proposals and the development program for China’s ambitious nuclear program, following the safety review ordered in the wake of Fukushima.

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