Nuclear approvals get closer in China

01 June 2012

China took a step towards full resumption of its nuclear power program with preliminary approval for a post-Fukushima nuclear safety plan.

In a meeting yesterday chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, the State Council discussed a 'Safety Plan' and a set of 'Vision 2020' goals, to which they gave preliminary approval. These documents will underpin the burgeoning Chinese nuclear industry when it returns to full-scale planning, licensing and construction.

The council met on 16 March 2011 to discuss the accident at Fukushima Daiichi and decided to stop approvals for new nuclear power plants until a safety plan was in place and there was assurance that existing plants were adequately designed, sited, protected and managed.

Power generation continued at reactors in operation at the time, as did construction of the 25 units then approved. Two of those have since been completed and come into operation, bringing China's total of operating nuclear power reactors to 15.

A statement yesterday gave some details of the 14-month safety assessment process that encompassed research reactors and fuel cycle facilities as well as nuclear power plants. It came after the State Council heard an interim report in February and agreed to make 'arrangements for further examination and implementation of corrective measures'.

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According to the council's statements, the main issues have been for some nuclear power plants to meet new standards on flood protection and for some research reactors to meet new earthquake requirements.

Some power plants have also needed to develop better procedures for severe accident prevention and mitigation, while China as a whole had a 'relatively weak foundation' in tsunami assessment and response.

However, the State Council said it is now satisfied that 'safety from external risks such as floods and earthquakes has been fully demonstrated' while on other issues 'the relevant departments and enterprises quickly organized rectification and have achieved initial results.'

China's strategy is to follow the principle of 'safety first, quality first' with the following basic tenets: 'prevention, defense in depth, combining prevention with control, relying on science and technology, continuous improvement, adherence to the rule of law, strict supervision, openness and transparency, and coordinated development.'

One headline item is that Chinese regulations are to fully incorporate the Safety Standards published by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The State Council did not give a timetable for its next steps but said it would publish a report on the safety inspections for community comment.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News