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China Accelerates Targets for New Nuclear Plants

China is still the most aggressive builder of reactors on the planet.

The China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA) told the Bloomberg financial wire service this week that it will cut its targets for building new nuclear reactors by about 10%.  Li Yongjiang, VP of CENA, said in an interview in Hong Kong, where he is attending an energy conference, that capacity will target 60-70 GWe by the end of this decade. Previously, China has announced targets of 80 GWE or greater.

China halted approvals of new nuclear power plants following the Fukushima crisis in Japan last March.  The government has issued several statements about the safety reviews of both existing plants and proposed new builds.  Most recently, Zhao Chengkun, VCP of CNEA, said the reviews were completed in August.  However, the results of the reviews have not been made public.

While China has said it will resume approvals of new reactors in 2012, it may have resumed the process coincident with the completion of the safety reviews.  The difference is that new projects with generation II designs will not go forward.

Near term goals set for 2015

Zhao said that while the overall target is being scaled back, the near term accomplishments are expected to develop 40 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2015 instead of 2020.  He added that none of China’s coastal reactor sites would be vulnerable to a tsunami or the type of earthquake that hit Fukushima.

China is moving some of its new sites inland which will require improvements to transportation infrastructure.  Coastal projects have the advantage of allowing large components like reactor pressure vessels to be delivery by barge.

The main areas of safety concern in China are with its second-generation designs.  Most likely, Chinese officials will not approve any new projects referencing them.

At the nuclear conference in Hong Kong, Takuya Hattori, president of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, said the root causes of the Fukushima disaster were bureaucratic complacency, insufficient accident protection, unclear division of responsibility in emergency management, lack of government leadership, and inconsistent release of information by TEPCO to the government and the public.

In a statement last June  Zhao noted that the Chinese government should further improve systems of environmental monitoring and emergency responses. It should also strengthen public education about nuclear knowledge and build the capability of public emergency responses for people who live around nuclear plants.

Profile of China’s nuclear program

China has 14 nuclear reactors in operation with more than two dozen planned or under construction.  Six of them are so-called ‘third-generation’ plants with advanced safety features. All of these reactors are imports – four from Westinghouse and two from Areva.  China plans to build an additional 50 reactors most of which will be generation III designs adapted through licensing of technology from the current round of imports.

The World Nuclear Association notes in its profile of China’s nuclear program that achieving self-sufficiency in design and construction of reactors is one of the nation’s main goals.  China has also said it will begin a program to export a generation III design starting perhaps as early as 2013, but first it must ramp up domestic staffing for construction and for nuclear safety oversight.  Also, it has to get a handle on quality assurance on manufacturing of nuclear components.  In response, Chinese universities are ramping up their programs to include hands-on training at reactor project sites.

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