Firms flock to Chinese supply chain

07 January 2010

China's ambitious expansion of nuclear power capacity is driving huge growth in its domestic supply industry, with companies quickly diversifying into the sector.


One example is Guangxi province-based engineering firm OVM Co, which has begun making nuclear equipment after previously specialising in cables and pipes for civil applications. Sales manager Zhu Hongyong said the firm has been supplying post-tensioning systems to local nuclear power plants. "There are more and more local suppliers to nuclear power stations, said Zhu, who showed photos to World Nuclear News of the firm's staff on site at the Tianwan nuclear power plant in Guangdong province.


Not least for cost efficiencies, China's policymakers are keen to wean the country off a dependence on imported equipment. China has 20 reactors under construction: it is aiming for 70 GWe of installed nuclear power by 2020, up from the 9 GWe of nuclear power currently in operation.


The country has budgeted $65 billion for nuclear build, which hinges on replicating the Westinghouse-designed AP1000 reactor and the CPR-1000. The latter is based on technology purchased from France's Areva.


China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation and Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute are working on an AP1000-inspired reactor, a more powerful CAP-1400 (1400 MWe) which is set for construction starts in 2013. "The export potential of both reactors, and the earnings for China, as the IPR owner, would be significant," said Zhongmao Gu, a nuclear equipment specialist at China Institute of Atomic Energy.


Much of the country's nuclear equipment industry is state-driven: with most of the research done by 6000 staff at the mammoth Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) and a complex web of other institutes and related companies spread across the country.


China First Heavy Industries (YiZhong) in the northern steel-belt Heilongjiang province, is perhaps the market leader in equipment manufacturing. It produces pressure vessels and pressurisers for nuclear plants up to 1 GWe. It also makes forgings for steam generators as part of a $340 million expansion which could see it outputting five reactor sets per year by 2015.


Its smaller peer Harbin Boiler Co has had much more luck supplying generators to coal fired plants at home and abroad but wants to make pressure vessels and steam generators for AP1000 reactors. Parent company Harbin Power Equipment Co Ltd has already supplied turbines and generators to China's four AP1000 reactors. 


Chinese companies are in "early stages" of developing equipment, explained Michael Chatlani vice president for marketing of power systems and simulation systems at Canada-based L3 MAPPS, which installed simulators to train operators at the Ling Ao nuclear power plant in southerly Guangdong province. While conceding that China is developing its own abilities, Chatlani believes his firm can hold an edge over local peers in innovation and "a whole value chain solution."


Also notable is Shandong Nuclear Power Equipment Manufacturing Company, which supplies pipelines and other equipment for AP1000 reactors. In line with the Westinghouse orders, it has upgraded equipment and methods to receive the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' N-Stamp accreditation.


Foreign engineering firms in China have also switched focus to nuclear. Japan's Morimatsu Group, which has diverse engineering operations in China, established the Shanghai Morimatsu Pressure Vessel Co, to manufacture locally for Chinese nuclear power projects. A company spokesperson said nuclear power equipment would become a more important business "as China is becoming the world's biggest market for nuclear equipment."

Beijing-based umbrella group China National Nuclear Corporation is boldly aiming for at least 70% domestic manufacturing for the Changjiang plant (two 650 MWe reactors), which the company is overseeing on the southern island province of Hainan. Chinese equipment providers are getting better at producing quality equipment, said Zhongmao Gu, "because they're looking at the vast potential of the market."

By Mark Godfrey
for World Nuclear News