UPDATE 1-China starts construction at 3 nuclear projects

* China launches Rongcheng, Zhangzhou and Taipingling projects

* New nuclear capacity at 1.25 GW in H1, 3% of total

* Country expected to fall short of 2020 target (Adds detail, background)

SHANGHAI, July 25 (Reuters) - China has started construction on three new nuclear power plants in the provinces of Shandong, Fujian and Guangdong, the country’s energy regulator said on Thursday, marking the end of a moratorium on new projects.

Li Fulong, head of the development and planning office of the National Energy Administration (NEA), told reporters at a briefing that construction had begun at Rongcheng in Shandong, Zhangzhou in Fujian and Taipingling in Guangdong.

The Zhangzhou project was the first new conventional nuclear project to be approved by China’s cabinet, the State Council, in three years.

It will use China’s homegrown third-generation nuclear reactor technology known as the “Hualong One”, with the first unit expected to go into operation in 2024.

China’s ambitious reactor building programme has fallen behind schedule, with major projects subject to years of delays and cost overruns. The world’s first Westinghouse-designed AP1000 reactor finally went into commercial operation last year, some four years later than originally planned.

Total capacity stood at 45.9 GW by the end of last year with 11 units still under construction, and is expected to hit 53 GW by the end of next year, 5 GW short of its official target.

Industry officials have said authorities must approve six to eight new reactors a year over the next decade in order to meet the country’s climate and clean energy goals.

China’s total nuclear installed capacity increased 1.25 GW in the first half of this year, with one new reactor completed and put into commercial operation. China’s total power generation capacity from all sources rose 40.7 GW over the period, NEA officials said on Thursday. (Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Christian Schmollinger & Uttaresh.V)