One of the conclusions of my most recent article on China was that many of the negative factors which have affected nuclear programmes elsewhere in the world are now also crucial there. The last year has confirmed that this was a reasonable judgement. Despite five new reactors starting up in 2016, to bring the number in operation to 36, with combined generating capacity of 32.6GWe, it is clear that the programme has continued to slow sharply. The most obvious sign is the lack of approvals for new construction. Although there are 21 units under construction, representing 23.1GWe, there have now been no new approvals for 18 months. Other signs of trouble are the uncertainties about the type of reactor to be utilised in the future, the position of the power market in China, the structure of the industry with its large state owned enterprises (SOEs), the degree of support from top state planners and public opposition to nuclear plans. There are a few possible explanations for the slowdown in approvals. Delays in imported Generation III reactor designs (the Westinghouse AP1000 and Areva EPR) have no doubt concerned regulators. Problems with the AP1000 projects at Sanmen and Haiyang are more serious, as this reactor was destined for most of China’s future reactor sites. Now hot testing is complete the first Sanmen unit may go into operation before the end of 2017, but this will not bring forward a flood of new approvals. The Chinese have suffered a severe dent in their confidence about the AP1000, not helped by Westinghouse’s bankruptcy. The authorities will want to see clear evidence of successful operation before authorising more units. If they do, the first will be at the existing two sites, but there are several others that have been ready to go for several years now.
Nuclear Engineering International 10th Aug 2017 read more »