China's debut Westinghouse reactor delayed until June 2017: exec

BEIJING (Reuters) - The world’s first Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor will go into operation in June next year, more than three years behind the original schedule, the head of China’s leading state nuclear project developer said.

“We are forecasting that if everything goes smoothly, the first unit will go into operation in June 2017, and the second unit at the end of 2017,” said Sun Qin, the chairman of the China National Nuclear Corporation, speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the annual session of parliament.

“Construction has been delayed three years. At first we planned on December 2013 but there was just no way, with key pieces of equipment not available,” he said.

The “third-generation” reactor, designed by the U.S.-based Westinghouse, has been plagued by delays brought about by design flaws and problems with key components. Sun said new coolant pumps for the two reactor units only arrived at the end of last year.

Westinghouse is a unit of Japan’s Toshiba Corp.

A rival third-generation design, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), has faced similar problems, with projects in France, Finland and China all delayed.

But Sun said he was hopeful that China’s own third-generation model, known as the Hualong 1, will progress more smoothly. China’s first Hualong unit is under construction at Fuqing in southeast China’s Fujian province and is expected to be completed by around June 2020, he said.

China has also started construction on an identical Hualong 1 unit in Pakistan and is waiting on Argentina to ratify another Hualong 1 deal.

CNNC’s rival, China General Nuclear, signed a deal with France’s EDF to take a 6 billion pound ($8.5 billion) stake in a project to build two EPRs at Hinkley Point in Britain last year, with the understanding that a third unit would be a Hualong 1 and the state-owned French firm would help China gain approval for the model in Britain.

Sun said that he remained confident about the construction of the 18 billion pound project, despite financing problems facing EDF, but Britain’s first Hualong 1 would face delays.

China is in the middle of an ambitious nuclear reactor building program at home and aims to have completed 58 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity with another 30 GW under construction by the end of 2020.

“Looking at it now, with approvals stopped for around three years after Fukushima, we should have around 53 gigawatts in operation by 2020 with 38 to 40 gigawatts under construction, so the overall target should be no problem,” Sun said.

China’s total nuclear capacity reached 28.3 GW by the end of 2015, with 30 units in operation and another 24 under construction, the government said in January.

Reporting by David Stanway and Kathy Chen; Editing by Richard Pullin and Christian Schmollinger