UK to start regulatory assessment of Chinese design

10 January 2017

The British government has asked nuclear regulators to begin a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) of the UK HPR1000 reactor. This is the Hualong One design that General Nuclear Services (GNS) - a subsidiary of EDF and China General Nuclear (CGN) - proposes to use at a prospective new nuclear power plant in Bradwell.

Hualong One plant - 460 (CGN)
An artistic impression of how a plant based on the HPR1000 could appear (Image CGN)

The GDA is a voluntary process for reactor vendors - it is policy rather than law - but it is a government expectation for all new build projects in the UK.

Under a strategic investment agreement signed last October, CGN agreed to take a 33.5% stake in EDF Energy's Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, as well as jointly develop new nuclear power plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex. The Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C plants will be based on France's EPR reactor technology, while the new plant at Bradwell in Essex will feature the Hualong One design.

As part of that agreement, CGN agreed to form a joint venture company with EDF Energy to seek regulatory approval for a UK version of the Hualong One design.

In a written statement to Parliament today, Jesse Norman, junior minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said the investment by GNS in committing the resources required for the UK HPR1000 reactor to go through the GDA "underlines the fact that international companies continue to view investment in the UK's low-carbon energy future positively".

Norman noted that, as with previous such assessments, the full cost of the GDA will be charged to the Requesting Party - in this case GNS - which submits the design for assessment. This process is independent of any final agreement to commission a reactor of the relevant type.

ONR confirmed that it had received the request from government to start the GDA process for the UK HPR1000, which it said will begin once the necessary agreements with the Requesting Party have been put in place.

In a joint statement, EDF Energy and CGN said the request to regulators "marks a first step in the robust and thorough process" to seek permission to build a nuclear power plant at Bradwell. The proposed project is in an early pre-planning stage which will involve years of investigative works and public consultations before detailed proposals are produced allowing a planning application to be made, they said.

CGN and EDF submitted an application through their joint venture company to BEIS in October last year to begin the GDA process for a UK version of the nuclear technology. The reference plant for the design is CGN's Fangchenggang Plant Unit 3 in China, which is under construction and on schedule, they added.

Zhu Minhong, general manager of CGN UK said: "The robust independence of the UK's regulators is seen across the world as a key strength for nuclear in Britain. This is a quality which we value and respect. CGN and EDF will bring to this enterprise their joint experience in China, Britain and France over many years."

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF Energy's managing director of nuclear new build, said: "EDF will bring invaluable experience gained from the approval process for Hinkley Point C's EPR reactors and from our continuing work with the UK's independent regulators. Both EDF and CGN will also be listening carefully to the community around Bradwell before we draw up detailed proposals for the development of the new power station."

The GDA process will take a number of years to complete. There are a number of different consents and permissions to be achieved before a nuclear power plant can be constructed. As well as successful completion of the GDA process, other requirements include development consent, site licensing and environmental permits.

Greg Clark, secretary of state at BEIS, confirmed in September last year that the government had decided to proceed with the UK's first new nuclear power plant for a generation at Hinkley Point C.

Richard Savage, the chief nuclear inspector at ONR, said later the same month that the regulatory body has the expertise and resources it needs should it receive a request from government to assess the Hualong One reactor design. Speaking to World Nuclear News during the International Atomic Energy Agency's 60th General Conference in Vienna, Savage said: "We've been planning for this for some time. We've got our assumptions about the program in the UK, which is obviously developing quickly for us. We have approximately 350 inspectors and that's projected to increase, recognising the program we need to regulate. We have an expectation to have a request from government to have a GDA for a Chinese design and we're prepared for that. We've got the two GDAs that will conclude [in 2017], all being well, and so the timing works quite well for us with potentially a new GDA coming into the process. We have the resources and the expertise to deploy into that process for a Chinese GDA."

The ONR - which became a statutory public corporation in April 2014 - manages the GDA process with the Environment Agency. The ultimate positive outcome of the GDA process is issuance of a Design Acceptance Confirmation (DAC) from the ONR and a Statement of Design Acceptability (SoDA) from the Environment Agency. Before this, an interim DAC and an interim SoDA are issued.

EDF Energy/Areva's UK European Pressurised Reactor design received a DAC and SoDA in December 2012. Hitachi's UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor - for its UK subsidiary Horizon Nuclear Power - began the GDA process in January 2014. The AP1000 - to be used by Toshiba and Engie's UK subsidiary NuGeneration - reached the iDAC and iSoDA stage in December 2011, but then Westinghouse paused the process until its owner Toshiba bought a stake in NuGen. It restarted the process in January 2015. Both the UK ABWR and the AP1000 are on target to complete their respective GDAs this year.

In 2012, central planners in Beijing directed CGN and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to 'rationalise' their reactor programs. This meant CNNC's ACP1000 and CGN's ACPR1000 were 'merged' into one standardised design - the Hualong One. CGN refers to its version of Hualong One as the HPR1000. In fact, each company has its own supply chain and their versions of Hualong One will differ slightly (units built by CGN will use some features from the ACPR1000), but the design is considered to be standardised. It is set for wide deployment in China as well as export to other countries.

Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology - the joint venture between CGN and CNNC to promote the Hualong One reactor design in export markets - was officially inaugurated in March last year.

Clark today attended an evidence session into The Economics of UK Energy Policy at the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. Jeremy Pocklington, director general of energy and security at BEIS, also gave evidence. Among other energy-related topics, the Committee asked them whether the Hinkley Point C deal was good value for money, and what would happen if it is not built on time.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News