Maintain nuclear perspective, China told

11 January 2011

China should 'keep a clear head' on nuclear power, concentrate more on Generation-III reactors and keep its new build ambitions for 2020 to around 100 GWe, said a state body yesterday. 


The advice came from the State Council Research Office (SCRO), which makes independent policy recommendations to the State Council on strategic matters. It appeared officially in Xinhua's weekly Outlook publication.


While noting that 'the situation for the development of more nuclear power is good', the body said: 'We should keep a clear head. Not only seeing the favourable factors, but paying attention also to a variety of constraints to ensure steady progress.'


Going too far too fast 'could threaten the long-term healthy development of nuclear power.'


The country already has 13 reactors in operation with a total capacity of over 10 GWe. Some 32 more have already been approved by authorities to bring another 34 GWe - and construction has already started on 25 of these. The SCRO celebrated the progress made and the successful import of the Generation-III Westinghouse AP1000 design, which is meant to form the backbone of China's future nuclear fleet.


However, ambitious targets to deploy AP1000s with reduced foreign input have proven difficult due to frequent quality control issues in the supply chain. As a result, more of the Generation-II CPR-1000 and CNP design units are under construction or on order. Only China is building Generation-II units in such large numbers, said the SCRO, counting 57 on the books.


Reactors built today should operate for 50 or 60 years, meaning a large fleet of Generation-II units will still be in operation into the 2070s, when even Generation-III reactors would have been far surpassed, perhaps even by commercial nuclear fusion. The country should be 'careful' concerning 'the volume of second generation units under construction... the scale should not be too large' to avoid being perceived as being behind the curve of internatinoal safety in future. The SCRO was mindful of the 100-fold increase in probabilistic safety brought by Generation-III and that future generations would continue the trend.


Another factor potentially affecting safety is the nuclear power workforce. While staff can be technically trained in four to eight years, 'safety culture takes longer' at the operational level.


This issue is magnified in the regulatory regime, where salaries are lower than in industry and workforce numbers remain relatively low. SCRO said that most countries employ 30-40 regulatory staff per reactor in their fleet, but the National Nuclear Safety Administration has only 1000 staff - a figure that must more than quadruple by 2020. It was also noted frankly: 'The independence of regulatory authorities is not enough'.


The body calculated the present rate of nuclear development to require new investment of some RMB 1 trillion ($151 billion) by 2020, not counting those units being built now. This figure could rise if supply chain issues impact schedules, with repercussions for companies borrowing to build and for the economics of the Chinese nuclear program overall.


Stay on track 


Six recommendations concluded the statement. First, said the SCRO, the government should exercise some control to make sure that enthusiastic companies or regions do not disregard the national interest in their ambitions to build nuclear plants. To avoid going too far too fast, China should aim for 100 GWe total nuclear capacity in 2020. This is down from the 120 GWe postulated last year but still enough for it to draw level with the USA, the largest nuclear power producer in the world. In 2008 China's plan was only for 40 GWe.


Second, the country should 'unswervingly implement the Party Central Committee and State Council decision-making arrangements, concentrating on domestic AP1000 construction' followed by the proposed CAP-1400 derivative.


To do that, the quality of nuclear components made in China must be enhanced and stabilised to 'break the bottleneck' in the supply chain.


Personnel training has to be strengthened with the establishment of a 'complete nulcear engineering education system.'


Fifth, noted the SCRO, 'The NNSA should be an entity directly under the State Council Bureau, making it an independent regulatory body with authority.'


Last came a call to improve China's fuel cycle capabilities by 'deepening the reform of the nuclear fuel system and the establishment of an independent nuclear fuel enterprise group.' China should 'strive over the next five to ten years in the development of uranium resources, uranium enrichment, fuel fabrication and spent fuel reprocessing.'
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News