* Pace of project approvals to be slower
* Public opinion, not technology, now the main hurdle
* Overseas uranium acquisitions still on agenda
By David Stanway
BEIJING, Nov 13 The pace of nuclear project
approvals will be slower in the next few years as China seeks to
allay safety concerns in the wake of Japan's Fukushima crisis,
but commitment to the sector remained undimmed, the head of the
country's biggest nuclear firm said.
Sun Qin, the chairman of the state-owned China National
Nuclear Corporation, said development was at an early stage and
setbacks were unavoidable, but nuclear power remained an
essential component of China's energy strategy and the industry
needed to do more to persuade the public of its virtues.
"There will be problems here and problems there but finally
the world will have to depend on nuclear energy -- it won't be
today's nuclear energy, but something like fusion, but we first
need to learn," he said on the sidelines of China's Communist
Party Congress in Beijing, late on Monday.
It was not technology or finance now holding back the sector
in China, but the need to gain public acceptance, he added.
Before Fukushima, many in the sector were expecting China to
set a 2020 capacity target of around 80-90 gigawatts (GW), up
from the current 12.57 GW. The new target has now been scaled
back to 58 GW, but Sun said Beijing's determination to develop
the sector remained undiminished.
"The pace of approvals will certainly be slower but the
overall direction cannot be changed," he said.
China suspended new approvals in March 2011 after a tsunami
devastated Japan's northeast coast and left the ageing Fukushima
reactor complex on the brink of catastrophe. Sun said the
process is now back to normal following the publication of new
guidelines for the sector in late October.
The guidelines stipulated that only the highest
"third-generation" reactor safety standards would be permitted,
and until at least 2015, China would only allow reactor
construction to go ahead on the coast.
Sun said the suspension of a number of planned projects in
China's interior regions had nothing to do with technological
deficiencies or safety risks, but was more because the country
had "no experience" building such projects and had to make sure
the public were on their side.
"Ordinary people need to accept -- we will probably build in
inland regions in the thirteenth five-year plan period
(2016-2020) but there is no specific time frame right now."
China's ambitions for the sector include the creation of its
"own brand" of reactor that will allow companies like CNNC to
compete for nuclear project contracts abroad. The company
currently has just one overseas project in Pakistan, which uses
relatively old "second-generation" technology.
Sun said any future overseas projects would use advanced
"third-generation" reactor designs, but CNNC still had to make
sure that the advanced technologies transferred from abroad were
fully "localised" before it could bid overseas.
China is using the AP1000 reactor designs of the U.S.-based
Westinghouse as the basis of its own brand of reactor following
a 2007 technology transfer agreement.
The world's first AP1000 is expected to go into operation in
Sanmen in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang in 2013, but
according to the conditions of the agreement, China can only
build them at home.
CNNC's own third-generation reactor is likely to be
commercially ready by 2014-15, Sun said. The design uses some of
the "passive" safety features of the AP1000.
The company has also been trying to secure fuel supplies,
buying stakes in foreign uranium mines in Niger, Kazakhstan and
elsewhere. He said the current global environment would make it
easier for CNNC to acquire overseas uranium.
Asked if CNNC would consider bidding for Westinghouse, now
owned by Japan's Toshiba, Sun was diplomatic.
"If the U.S. government allows it, we are prepared to
cooperate more with Westinghouse. We have already set up a joint
venture. In fact, it doesn't matter whether we acquire
Westinghouse or not -- strengthening cooperation is probably
more realistic, more feasible."
CNNC is the parent company of the Hong Kong-listed uranium
trader, CNNC International. Sun said CNNC was still
making preparations to list the whole group, probably on the
Shanghai stock exchange, but the schedule would be determined by
"We are currently planning to list on A-share market but it
hasn't been settled and there would be no obstacle to listing in
Hong Kong as well," he said.
(Editing by xxxx)