China resumes nuclear power plant construction after a four-year freeze(2)

2015-06-16 10:07Global Times Editor: Li Yan

Construction of these projects has not been smooth. Sanmen Nuclear Power Station in Zhejiang Province was expected to be the first nuclear power plant in the world that uses AP1000 technology. The first of the two reactors was scheduled to finish construction and start operation in November 2013, but construction is now over 18 months behind schedule. The plant won't start operation until 2016 at the earliest, an official from China's State Nuclear Power Technology, the company building the power plant, said in January.

The company has struggled to keep its schedule because of constant changes in design and new problems that emerged during tests, previous reports said.

In a statement by the economic planner of Zhejiang Province in 2013, its energy department said the delay has slowed down the province's nuclear development and affected the power supply plan in Zhejiang. It has also undermined China's overall plan to make AP1000 its major technology in new nuclear plants.

In Guangdong Province, the Taishan nuclear plant, scheduled to finish this year, is likely to be the first EPR power plant in the world to finish construction and start operation.

Two EPR plant projects launched before Taishan are the Olkiluoto 3 in Finland and Flamanville 3 in France. Each encountered technical delays and weaknesses and won't finish construction until 2017. France's nuclear officials have more than once voiced concerns over the safety of Taishan, which could face the same problems as the Finish and French projects.

Apart from imported technology, China is also experimenting with its own nuclear technology, Hualong One. The first of two Hualong One units planned for the Fuqing plant in Fujian Province officially started construction in May as a demonstration project.

"This is China's first indigenous nuclear power design, with China's own intellectual property rights. It will play an important role in China's export of nuclear technology," Lin said.

Inland plants

So far, all of the nuclear power plants in operation and under construction in China are located along the coast. Coastal power plants are favored because sea water is a natural and free source for power plant cooling, and building nuclear power plants by the sea reduces its potential risks.

But discussions of inland nuclear power plants have been going on for years. Plans for the construction of three inland plants in Hunan, Hubei and Jiangxi provinces were suspended after the Fukushima accident and have not yet been re-approved. But observers say inland nuclear power plants are very likely to be approved in the coming 13th five-year plan.

Wang Yinan, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council, said the risk is too high to build nuclear power plants in China's inland, citing the dense population, the uncertainty of China's nuclear power plants, China's inability to deal with radioactive waste and the lack of stable water resources in inland areas to act as coolants.

She said hydroelectricity and other new energy means should be developed in inland areas. "Nuclear shouldn't play an important role in China's energy structure," she said.

Don't worry

The lack of precedents of these projects and China's push to launch more have had some experts call this experiment "the Great Leap Forward of nuclear power," including He Zuoxiu, a Chinese physicist and member of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"The rapid speed of China's nuclear expansion, and the direction it is expanding - to the most populous inland areas - is unprecedented…Besides, China's nuclear industry has a tendency to exaggerate its achievements to the central government, so as to gain more funding," He told the Global Times.

He also warns of a nuclear accident when the total number of nuclear power plants reaches 50 - the total number of nuclear plants built and under construction in China.

"According to past experiences, the likelihood of a disaster rises sharply after a country runs over 50 nuclear power plants, as is the case in the US and Japan," he said.

In an interview with China Economic Weekly, Zhang Huazhu, chairman of China Nuclear Energy Association, said, "I don't think it's proper to use Great Leap Forward to describe the current nuclear development. China is building [its nuclear power plants] in a sturdy way, and safety and stability will be ensured in future operation."

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