China's emerging nuclear power policy

24 October 2012

China plans a 'steady' return to full-scale nuclear build, approving a 'small number' of projects in each of the coming five years and restricting technology selection to Generation-III designs only.

The country's new approach to nuclear power was described today by Premier Wen Jiabao at a State Council executive meeting. Officials discussed and adopted separate plans for nuclear development and nuclear safety that had been in development since they met on 16 March 2011 to discuss the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

At that time, the council decided to halt approvals and licensing for new reactors 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 number of operating nuclear power reactors to 15.

Wen said that China will "steadily return to normal construction" of new nuclear power plants, based on a "steady advance in an orderly manner". Officially covering the period 2011-15, the 12th Five Year Plan will call for a "small number" of nuclear projects to be approved each year after full discussion. This relative language must be compared to China's previous rate of progress, with construction work on nine new reactors beginning in 2009, and ten in 2010.

Wen did not say at what time the first new approvals could come, speaking shortly before the 18th National Congress meeting that will select a successor for him as well as for President Hu Jintao.

Changjiang 1 dome lifting (CNECC)
Construction continued through the licensing hiatus. Here, in December 2011, the reactor containment dome of Changjiang 1 is lowered into place  (Image: CNECC)

It is understood that only coastal sites will be approved in the 12th plan period, meaning significant rescheduling for inland projects at Taohuajiang, Xianning and Pengze, which had previously been expected to start construction before 2015. Each site was expected to host four AP1000 units.

Another new condition is that only reactor designs meeting Generation-III safety standards are to be approved from now on in China. This terminology describes step-change improvements in safety and economy compared to the Generation-II units that make up most of today's commercial reactor fleet. China's imported EPR and AP1000 reactors are considered Generation-III, but the CPR-1000 design developed from previous French imports has been variously described as Generation-II or Generation-II+. Pre-Fukushima plans had in excess of 50 CPR-1000s at various stages of planning, in addition to the two in operation and 15 under construction at the moment.

Without giving details, Wen also said that China would increase nuclear safety by stepping up research and development, accelerating the imposition of new standards and regulation as well as improving emergency management and response. China plans to increase international cooperation and strengthen nuclear safety through "social supervision and supervision by public opinion."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News