January 16, 2015 / 7:30 AM / 5 years ago

China's Premier urges nuclear firms to boost overseas presence

BEIJING, Jan 16 (Reuters) - China will push its big nuclear firms to improve their competitiveness and boost their presence overseas as it bids to become one of the world’s dominant nuclear energy powers, the country’s premier Li Keqiang said.

“To continue the struggle to become a strong nuclear energy power, China must comprehensively raise the industry’s competitive advantages, promote nuclear power equipment overseas, and ensure the industry is absolutely safe,” Li said at a ceremony on Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of the launch of China’s civilian nuclear power programme.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Chinese president Xi Jinping said the nuclear sector was “an important cornerstone of China’s national security”, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

China has 22 reactors in operation and another 26 under construction, and aims to raise total capacity to 58 gigawatts by the end of 2020, up from 20 GW now, but it needs to go much further to meet its low-carbon energy targets.

“Maybe we are now looking at 200 GW by 2030, making it the leading nuclear country by capacity, but there is still potential for nuclear to take an even greater share,” said Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association, at a conference in Beijing on Thursday.

China hopes its domestic reactor programme will create opportunities abroad, and China’s two biggest state nuclear firms, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN), have already agreed to invest in Britain’s Hinkley Point nuclear project.

Wang Zhongtang, chief engineer at the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp (SNPTC), said Thursday that China was also well on its way to securing projects in Turkey and South Africa.

China’s nuclear programme, including its own-brand reactors, will mainly rely on “third-generation” AP1000 technology designed by U.S.-based Westinghouse, following a technology transfer agreement in 2006.

While the launch of the world’s first AP1000 in Zhejiang province has been delayed until 2016, the country has been making steady progress on its own third-generation models, including the Hualong I, jointly developed by CNNC and CGN for the purpose of winning overseas projects.

Zheng Hua, deputy chief engineer with CGN’s reactor design unit, said last month that China hoped to develop Hualong I reactors in Britain, building on the agreement to invest in Hinkley Point.

China is also considering a plan to merge CNNC and CGN in order to pool their resources and improve their competitiveness overseas, sources told Reuters late last year.

Reporting by David Stanway, Additional reporting by Charlie Zhu in HONG KONG; Editing by Michael Perry

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