World News

China's third-gen nuclear reactor ready by 2013

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s new third-generation nuclear reactor, known as the ACP600, will be completed by 2013 and the first unit is likely to be built in the island province of Hainan or Gansu in the remote northwest, the country’s biggest nuclear developer said on Wednesday.

“The design will be completed in 2013 and there are choices on the domestic market, including Gansu and Hainan, but we are discussing the specific details with the government,” Liu Jing, deputy director of nuclear power at the China National Nuclear Corporation, said at an industry conference.

Third-generation reactors -- larger, sturdier and more fuel efficient than their predecessors -- are a crucial element of China’s ambitious nuclear expansion plans, with the designs of the U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric forming the standard for China’s own “localised” brand following a technology transfer agreement reached in 2007.

There are six foreign-designed third-generation reactors under construction -- including the world’s first Westinghouse AP1000 unit in Sanmen, Zhejiang province, scheduled to go into operation in 2013, along with two Areva European Pressurised Reactors being built in the southeast.

Liu said CNNC was keen to crack the foreign market and was “very willing” to work with other international companies to promote its new reactors.

He said the company is also seeking partners to help develop new “fourth-generation” fast breeder and supercritical water reactors, which will further improve fuel efficiency and safety.

Steve Kidd, director of strategy and research at the London-based World Nuclear Association, said fourth-generation reactors would be crucial if China was to avoid a serious bottleneck in uranium supplies in the coming decades.

The speed of development would depend on how fast the country can commercialize current technologies.

“If you go to 300 or 400 GW of total capacity, you’re going to have to start looking at something else because you are getting into very high-cost uranium,” Kidd said.

“By then they should develop the next generation of reactors, but you only get to the next generation when you are successful with the current generation. If China is suddenly doing 10 (third generation) pressurised water reactors a year, there will be an incentive to come out with something better,” he said.

When the Chinese government announced in 2007 that total nuclear capacity would rise to 40 gigawatts by the end of 2020, existing capacity stood at just 9 GW and no new reactor was scheduled to go into operation until 2011.

But many now believe that 40 GW is well within reach after a slew of project approvals along China’s eastern coast.

Xu Yuming, vice secretary-general of the China Nuclear Energy Association, said the target was now expected to be met five years ahead of schedule, and total capacity could reach as high as 80 gigawatts by the end of the decade.

“The pace of construction over the last three years has far, far exceeded our initial expectations and the target will definitely be met by 2015,” he said.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Paul Tait