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  Atomic energy has much room to play in China  

  

 

    BEIJING, May 5 (Xinhua) -- The successful commissioning nearly 16 years ago of a 300 MW nuclear reactor in Qinshan, east China's Zhejiang Province marked the birth of the country's nuclear power industry. Development of the technology began actually earlier, dating back to the late 1970s.

    In the period between 1995 and 2005, China's nuclear power generation outpaced all other forms of energy in growth, by an annual average of 15.3 percent against the average 9.5 percent for total energy.

    In spite of that, the existing nine reactors in commercial operation, totaling 6,990 MW in capacity, account for only 1.6 percent of China's total power generating capacity. Nuclear power production stood at 54.3 billion KWH last year, 1.92 percent of the total electricity output.

    At an international energy forum held in May 2006 in Beijing, Zhang Guobao, a high-ranking energy official, said China would rely on domestic supply to meet its steadily growing energy demand. Commenting on the small share of nuclear power, he said, "there's much room for development."

    The official document for China's 11th Five-Year Development Program (2006-2010) uses the word "actively" to describe expected development of nuclear power in the period. The word used in the preceding plan was "moderately". This reflected a change of China's energy strategy. Regarded as a clean, alternative solution to growing energy demand, Beijing decided to give the nuclear sector a boost by targeting an installation of 40,000 MW by the end of 2020, which would account for 4 percent of total capacity.

    China developed independently the first 300 MW pressurized water reactor adopted by Qinshan Phase-1 plant. The facility enjoys a good running record and the proven technology was exported to Pakistan. Larger units, known as models CNP600 and CNP1000, have also been developed. Two 600 MW pressurized water reactors are currently operating in Qinshan Phase-2 plant. Construction is underway on two 650 MW reactors for an expansion of the same project. They are scheduled for commissioning in 2011.

    Site is selected at Fangjiashan, Zhejiang for the first CNP 1000nuclear reactor. The designed service period of the 1,000 MW unit reaches 60 years. "Its conditions of safeness, reliability and cost-efficiency are further improved, "said Kang Rixin, GM of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

    A number of China's nuclear projects adopted foreign technologies. The Dayawan nuclear power plant in south China's Guangdong Province has two 1,000 MW pressurized water reactors introduced from France. Qinshan phase-3 project imported two Canadian 700 MW heavy water reactors. Tianwan in east China's Jiangsu Province is constructing two 1,060 MW AES-91 pressurized water reactors supplied by Russia. In December 2006 China announced the purchase of four 3G AP 1000 reactors from US-based Westinghouse Electric Company.

    Work was kicked off in late 2006 for the construction of a 200 MW high temperature gas-cooled reactor in Shidaowan, Shandong. This was a demonstration project jointly developed by Huaneng Energy Group, CNNC and Tsinghua University. Featuring better safeness, higher efficiency and simple structure, the facility belongs to the fourth generation of the nuclear power family.

    Most nuclear reactors in operation or being constructed in China are of the 2nd generation technology. With the exception of a limited few, experts say, all new installations to be commissioned before the end of 2020 are expected to be 2G reactors or an improved version of 2G technology. China needs time to develop the 3G and more sophisticated products. Independent development and domestic manufacturing were important in cutting down on cost, which was a precondition for large-scaled, sustainable exploitation of nuclear energy, said Zhou Dadi, director of Energy Research Institute, National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC).

    The Chinese public is not without worry over nuclear facilities. To quite a few people, nuclear power and nuclear weapon sound similar in meaning and effect. And the disastrous accidents occurred decades ago in the United States and former Soviet Union are uneasy reminders of the threat. However, the voice of opposition against nuclear power has been weak in the country, as compared with condemnation on pollution caused by, say, the burning of coal.

    Proponents say some people's fear of nuclear power has stemmed from a lack of understanding of this form of energy. They argue there is no evidence to show nuclear power is more dangerous than other energies. In fact, the world sees more lives claimed every year by accidents related to hydropower and coal or gas-sourced energies.

    Although the opposition there is much stronger, many other countries are ahead of China in nuclear power development. The US relies on nuclear reactors for 20 percent of power consumption. France has the world's highest nuclear share of 80 percent. And worldwide the average share of nuclear power is around 16 percent. China's nuclear installation would only account for 4 percent of its total capacity when the 15-year target is hit, an analyst noted.

    China's existing nuclear facilities have a sound service record. The first self-developed 300 MW pressurized water reactor has operated safely for more than 15 years. The facility was designed for running 30 years. Now the operator is considering prolonging the period.

    Nuclear reactors give no emission of green house gas. And given the modern technology, limited amount of nuclear wastes could be disposed of properly. China's power industry was blamed for 40 percent of sulfur dioxide emission. The significance of developing nuclear power was obvious, an industry watcher said.

    To promote public understanding of nuclear power production, Dayawan launched in December 2006 a program allowing local residents a guided tour of the nuclear plant. The entrance was limited to 300 persons a day. Many visitors said they had a very eye-opening experience.

    Most new projects employ 1,000 MW scale reactors. To meet the 2020 goal, China needs to launch two or three such scaled projects in every of the following 15 years. CNNC and CGNPG (China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co. Ltd.) are two major developers of nuclear energy. CNNC has played a dominant role in domestic technology development, and is engaged diversely in nuclear projects across the country. The company recorded a profit of 1.1 billion yuan in 2005. It wishes to double the economic return in five years.

    CGNPG is the developer and operator of Dayawan and Ling'ao nuclear plants, which total 4,000 MW in capacity. The company has adjusted business target in accordance with the State Nuclear Power Planning. The aim is to control 34,000 MW capacity by 2020.

    The nuclear undertakings of the two groups, if their plans could be fulfilled, would be adequate to meet the nation's goal for 2020. But other energy players are eager to join in the game. The targeted capacity would probably be surpassed, an observer said.

    All existing reactors are located in coastal areas, close to water and the nation's main power load region. Now inland areas that have abundant water supply are deemed plausible for nuclear installation too. This gives local governments and companies a chance. A dozen or so inland provinces are reportedly contending for launching the country's first inland nuclear power station. Many sites have been selected, projects initiated and even fund raised. The Taohuajiang project, a 4,000 MW scenario in Hunan, has completed feasibility study in August 2006. The plan is likely to be the first to gain central government approval.

    The enthusiasm poses a worry to some observers, who call for strict regulation and supervision of nuclear projects to ensure safe construction and operation. Although the technology is mature, nuclear power is a highly sensitive business. Any accident of intensity would have devastating impact on the industry, an observer said. The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl cases were lessons to learn.

    Developers and operators must have the necessary qualification, said the observer. Presently, all new developers team up with CNNC or CGNPG. But China needs a proper mechanism to ensure strict market entry. And the lack of whole unit equipment supplier, the isolation of designers and operators, and the monopoly of nuclear fuel dealing were issues waiting to be addressed, the same observer said. An atomic law and policy incentives to encourage nuclear power development were also necessary.

    Talent is another weakness that hampers the nuclear boom. Shortage of supply is felt particularly in high-level managerial personnel, in addition to technical staff. According to CGNPG's Assistant to GM Zhang Weiqing, the company needs to expand the staff team from 3,000 to 12,000 people by the year 2020. That means recruiting and training 1,000 persons every year.

    A company dedicated to procuring uranium overseas was inaugurated on December 28, 2006 in Beijing. The company is under CNNC, which monopolizes the trading of uranium resources in China.Domestic uranium supply is sufficient for the time being. And reserves are big enough for the long run. But the boost of capacity in the medium term, between 2015 and 2025, may cause a shortage of supply. Overseas procurement is therefore necessary. Unlike oil, uranium is in abundant supply on the international market. China expects little opposition for overseas buying, said Qian Jihui, honorary director of China Nuclear Power Institute.

    China is one of the six signatory countries that are engaged in the 30-year International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) program. China pledged to spend 1 billion U.S. dollars on the program and expected to share its findings and intellectual property.

    As its name suggests, ITER was intended to make breakthrough in exploiting nuclear energy via atomic fusions. Experiments with the tokamak device conducted in a research center in Hefei, Anhui reported successes a number of times last year. Although the prospects of putting it to commercial use is still remote -- experts say at least 50 years ahead, the progress makes the Chinese believe they are playing the leading role in nuclear power exploitation.

 

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