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BEIJING Nov 9 (Reuters) - China's approval process for nuclear reactors is now back to normal following the publication of new guidelines for the sector late in October, the chairman of China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) said on Friday.
Sun Qin told reporters on the sidelines of the ruling Communist Party's congress in Beijing that the suspension of new reactor approvals by the State Council, China's cabinet, was "basically unfrozen", adding that it would still take time before new nuclear projects were given the go-ahead.
Late last month, China announced revised plans for the sector, saying that it would only approve a small amount of new reactors before 2015, and stipulated that only the highest possible "third-generation" safety standards would be permitted.
The announcement marked the end of a sector freeze put in place by Beijing in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, which triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima reactor complex.
The Chinese plan set a new 2020 capacity target of 58 gigawatts (GW), and while it was higher than an original target of 40 GW set in 2007, it was still far lower than 80-100 GW figure the industry was anticipating before Fukushima. China's current nuclear capacity stands at 12.57 GW.
CNNC is China's biggest nuclear project developer and Sun said he was happy with the targets.
"Our company is very positive our own plans will be set in unison (with the state's). There will certainly be no problems meeting the 58 GW target," he said.
Only nuclear projects situated on China's coast would be approved, according to the plan, a move that affects a number of projects being planned by CNNC in inland regions.
"The plan only said that the projects would be suspended during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015)," said Sun. "I estimate that they will resume after that."
Steve Kidd, director general of the World Nuclear Association, said that it was too early to say what the impact of the new plan would be on a sector that has been counting on strong growth from China, but any resumption of approvals would be welcomed by the whole industry.
"On the face of it, there will be no inland sites and no older reactor designs, but I am not sure it will turn out that way. The programme has obviously slowed down a little bit but it is still looking very strong," he told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Beijing on Thursday.
"There was a period of uncertainty and the risk was if there were no new approvals there would be a gap in the programme because nothing new had been started for a few years," he said. (Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Ed Davies)