Nuclear Power in China

Summary of article in World Nuclear Association

  • Mainland China has 13 nuclear power reactors in operation, 25 under construction, and more about to start construction soon.
  • Additional reactors are planned, including some of the world’s most advanced, to give more than a tenfold increase in nuclear capacity to 80 GWe by 2020, 200 GWe by 2030, and 400 GWe by 2050.
  • China is rapidly becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle.

Most of mainland China’s electricity is produced from fossil fuels (80% from coal, 2% from oil, 1% from gas in 2006) and hydropower (15%). Two large hydro projects are recent additions: Three Gorges of 18.2 GWe and Yellow River of 15.8 GWe.

Domestic electricity production in 2009 was 3643 billion kWh, 6.0% higher than the 3,450 billion kWh in 2008, which was 5.8% more than in 2007 (3,260 billion kWh) and it is expected to rise to 3,810 billion kWh in 2010. Installed capacity had grown by the end of 2009 to 874 GWe, up 10.2% on the previous year’s 793 GWe, which was 11% above the previous year’s 713 GWe.2 Capacity growth is expected to slow, reaching about 1600 GWe in 2020. At the end of 2007, there was reported to be 145 GWe of hydro capacity, 554 GWe fossil fuel, 9 GWe nuclear and 4 GWe wind, total 713 GWe. In 2008, the country added 20.1 GWe of hydro capacity, 65.8 GWe coal-fired capacity, and 4.7 GWe wind.

These capacity increase figures are all the more remarkable considering the forced retirement of small inefficient coal-fired plants: 26 GWe of these was closed in 2009, making 60 GWe closed since 2006, cutting annual coal consumption by 69 million tonnes (Mt) and annual carbon dioxide emissions by 139 Mt. China is well advanced in developing and deploying supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal plants, as well as moving quickly to design and deploy technologies for integrated (coal) gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants.

The grid system run by the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) is sophisticated and rapidly growing, utilising ultra high voltage (1000 kV AC and 800 kV DC) transmission. By 2020, the capacity of the UHV network is expected to be some 300 GW, which will function as the backbone of the whole system, having 400 GWe of clean energy sources connected, of which hydropower will account for 78 GW, and wind power from the north a further significant portion (wind capacity by 2020 is planned to be 100 GWe). Also by 2020, operational transmission losses are expected to be 5.7%, down from 6.6% in 2010. At the end of 2009, China had budgeted to spend $600 billion upgrading its grid.

Among the main listed generators, Huaneng Power produced 203.5 billion kWh from its domestic plants in 2009, 10.2% up on 2008. Datang Power produced 141.9 billion kWh, 12% up on 2008. Huadian Power produced 107.5 billion kWh, 6.75% above 2008. CPI Development produced 43.9 billion kWh, 2.0% above 2008 level.

While coal is the main energy source, most reserves are in the north or northwest and present an enormous logistic problem – nearly half the country’s rail capacity is used in transporting coal. Because of the heavy reliance on old coal-fired plant, electricity generation accounts for much of the country’s air pollution, which is a strong reason to increase nuclear share.

China recently overtook the USA as the world’s largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. The US Energy Information Administration predicts that China’s share in global coal-related emissions will grow by 2.7% per year, from 4.9 billion tonnes in 2006 to 9.3 billion tonnes in 2030, some 52% of the projected world total. Total carbon dioxide emissions in China are projected to grow by 2.8% per year from 6.2 billion tonnes in 2006 to 11.7 billion tonnes in 2030 (or 28% of world total). In comparison, total US carbon dioxide emissions are projected to grow by 0.3% per year, from 5.9 billion tonnes in 2006 to 7.7 billion tonnes in 2030.3

Nuclear power

Nuclear power has an important role, especially in the coastal areas remote from the coalfields and where the economy is developing rapidly. Generally, nuclear plants can be built close to centres of demand, whereas suitable wind and hydro sites are remote from demand.

Technology has been drawn from France, Canada and Russia, with local development based largely on the French element. The latest technology acquisition has been from the USA (via Westinghouse, owned by Japan’s Toshiba) and France. The Westinghouse AP1000 is the main basis of technology development in the immediate future.

Prior to 2008, the government had planned to increase nuclear generating capacity to 40 GWe by 2020 (out of a total 1000 GWe planned), with a further 18 GWe nuclear being under construction then. However, government targets for nuclear power have been increasing. As of June 2010, official installed nuclear capacity projections were 70-80 GWe by 2020, 200 GWe by 2030 and 400-500 GWe by 2050.

Concerning technology, PWRs are expected to level off at 200 GWe about 2040, and fast reactors progressively increase from 2020 to at least 200 GWe by 2050 and 1400 GWe by 2100.

In September 2010, the China Daily reported that China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) alone plans to invest CNY 800 billion ($120 billion) into nuclear energy projects by 2020. Total investment in nuclear power plants, in which CNNC will hold controlling stakes, will reach CNY 500 billion ($75 billion) by 2015, according to CNNC. In order to fund the company’s expansion target, CNNC plans to list its subsidiary, CNNC Nuclear Power Co Ltd in 2011, to attract strategic investors.

Nuclear power reactors in mainland China

Reactor technology

China has set the following points as key elements of its nuclear energy policy:

  • PWRs will be the mainstream but not sole reactor type.
  • Nuclear fuel assemblies are fabricated and supplied indigenously.
  • Domestic manufacturing of plant and equipment will be maximised, with self-reliance in design and project management.
  • International cooperation is nevertheless encouraged.

The technology base for future reactors remains officially undefined, though two designs are currently predominant in construction plans: CPR-1000 and AP1000. Beyond them, high-temperature gas-cooled reactors and fast reactors appear to be the main priorities.

A major struggle between the established China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) pushing for indigenous technology and the small but well-connected State Nuclear Power Technology Corp (SNPTC) favouring imported technology was won by SNPTC about 2004. In particular, SNPTC proposes use of indigenized 1000+ MWe plants with advanced third-generation technology, arising from Westinghouse AP1000 designs at Sanmen and Haiyang (see section below on Embarking upon Generation III plants). Westinghouse has agreed to transfer technology to SNPTC over the first four AP1000 units so SNPTC can build the following ones on its own.

In February 2006, the State Council announced that the large advanced PWR was one of two high priority projects for the next 15 years, depending on “Sino-foreign cooperation, in order to master international advanced technology on nuclear power and develop a Chinese third-generation large PWR”.4 In September 2006, the head of the China Atomic Energy Authority said that he expected large numbers of third-generation PWR reactors derived from foreign technology to be built from about 2016, after experience is gained with the initial AP1000 units.


The Westinghouse AP1000 is the main basis of China’s move to Generation III technology. The first four AP1000 reactors are being built at Sanmen and Haiyang, for CNNC and CPI respectively, and involve a major technology transfer agreement. At least eight more at four sites are firmly planned after them, and about 30 more are proposed to follow. These are built from modules fabricated adjacent to each site. The timeline is 50 months from first concrete to fuel loading, then six months to grid connection for the first four units, with this expected to reduce significantly for the following units. The cost of the first four is expected to be less than $2000/kW, with this reducing to $1600 for further units. In October 2009, SNPTC and CNNC signed an agreement to co-develop and refine the AP1000 design. (See also section below on Embarking upon Generation III plants).


Two Areva EPR reactors are being built at Taishan, but no more appear to be proposed. (see section below on Embarking upon Generation III plants). Areva says the reactors are 4590 MWt, with net power 1660 MWe.

Nevertheless, in October 2008, Areva and CGNPC announced establishment of an engineering joint venture as a technology transfer vehicle for development EPR and other PWR plants in China and later abroad. The JV will be held 55% by CGNPC and other Chinese interests, and 45% by Areva. It will engineer and procure equipment for both the EPR and the CPR-1000.


Westinghouse announced in 2008 that it was working with SNPTC and Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research & Design Institute (SNERDI) to develop jointly a passively safe larger design from the AP1000, probably of 1400 MWe capacity for large-scale deployment. This development with SNERDI opens the possibility of China itself exporting the new larger units with Westinghouse’s cooperation.

In December 2009, the State Nuclear Demonstration Company – a 55-45% joint venture company by SNPTC and China Huaneng Group – was set up to build and operate an initial unit of the larger design, the CAP1400, at Huaneng’s Shidaowan site. The new company signed a set of agreements with SNERDI and the State Nuclear Power Engineering Company (SNPEC) in November 2010 to proceed with the project. Construction is scheduled to start in April 2013, and SNPTC hoped to have it operating in December 2017. Westinghouse is to provide technical consulting services to SNPTC for the design. It is to be followed by a CAP1700 design, and China will own the intellectual property rights for these two larger designs. SNPEC is doing the engineering under a team from SNERDI, the Shandong Electric Power Engineering Consulting Institute (SEPECI), and the State Nuclear Power Equipment Manufacturing Company (SNPEMC), which will make the components.

CNP-1000 (also CNP-600, CNP-300)

CNNC had been working with Westinghouse and Framatome (now Areva) at SNERDI since the early 1990s to develop a Chinese standard three-loop PWR design, the CNP-1000 based on Qinshan CNP-600 units, with high (60 GWd/t) burn-up, 18-month refueling cycle and 20 more fuel assemblies than the French-origin units. In 1997, the Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) at Chengdu became involved in the reactor design and, early in 2007, SNERDI was reassigned to concentrate on the AP1000 program. CNNC has been keen to create its own brand of advanced second-generation reactor with intellectual property rights, and wanted to build two initial CNP-1000 plants at Fangjiashan, adjacent to Qinshan near Shanghai, under the 11th Economic Plan, though the design probably would not have been ready. In early 2007, the CNP-1000 development was put on hold indefinitely, though this aborted export plans for two CNP-1000 units to Pakistan.

Further CNP-600 units are being built at Qinshan and Changjiang, Hainan. CNNC says they are free of French intellectual property rights.

The China Zhongyuan Engineering Corporation is involved with constructing a 300 MWe PWR unit (CNP-300) at Chasma in Pakistan – a twin to that already commissioned in 2000 and similar to Qinshan 1 – China’s first indigenously-designed (by SNERDI) nuclear power plant. Qinshan phase 2 is CNP-600, a scaled-up two-loop version of the same.

CNNC is seeking to sell the CNP-300 to Belarus and in Africa.


The CPR-1000 is a significantly upgraded version of the 900 MWe-class French three-loop technology imported for the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in the 1980s. Known as the ‘improved Chinese PWR’ and designated Generation II+, it features digital instrumentation and control and a design life of 60 years. Its 157 fuel assemblies have core melt frequency of 1×10-5 and a release probability an order of magnitude lower than this.

Standard construction time is 52 months, and the unit cost is under CNY 10,000 (US$ 1500) per kilowatt. With a capacity of 1080 MWe gross (1037 MWe net), Ling Ao Phase II is the first plant to be designated as the CPR-1000 design. The CPR-1000 is being widely and quickly deployed for domestic use.

China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) led the development of the CPR-1000 and has established a nearly complete domestic supply chain. However, Areva retains intellectual property rights, which constrains overseas sales since the Chinese would need agreement from Areva on a case-by-case basis.

CGNPC refers to later units as CPR-1000+, incorporating design improvements which bring it close to Generation III standard. Of more significance is its evolution to the ACPR-1000 with full Chinese intellectual property rights and which CGNPC expects to make available for local build and overseas markets from 2013.


In September 2005, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) signed a technology development agreement with CNNC which opened the possibility of it supplying further Candu-6 reactors. AECL built the two-unit Qinshan Phase III plant on schedule and under budget and estimates that it could be replicated for 25% lower cost. Any replication would be on the basis of involving local engineering teams, not on a turnkey basis, but the technology is now well understood and the decades-old Candu-6 design would likely pose fewer problems for technology transfer than state of the art third-generation designs from Westinghouse and Areva NP. (The later Korean Candu-6 plants at Wolsong had 75% local content.) However, the agreement with CNNC – more specifically with SNERDI – looked further forward to collaboration on AECL’s new ACR design later. SNERDI is now focused on AP1000 engineering and reassigned to SNPTC, so early in 2008 work on Candu fuel technologies passed to another CNNC entity: the Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC).


Having left the Chinese reactor market to others, in the light of China’s preference for PWR designs, GE has been commending its new boiling water reactor designs for future orders there.

Fast neutron reactor

Longer-term, fast neutron reactors (FNRs) are seen as the main technology, and CNNC expects the FNR to become predominant by mid-century. A 65 MWt fast neutron reactor – the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) – near Beijing achieved criticality in July 2010.5 Based on this, a 600 MWe pre-conceptual design was developed. The current plan is to develop an indigenous 1000 MWe design to begin construction in 2017, and commissioning 2022. This is known as the Chinese Demonstration Fast Reactor (CDFR) project 1.

In addition to CDFR project 1, in October 2009, an agreement with Russia confirmed earlier indications that China would opt for the BN-800 technology as CDFR project 2. The 880 MWe gross BN-800 reactor being built by OKBM Afrikantov at Beloyarsk in Siberia is the reference design and the first two in China are planned to start construction in 2013 at Sanming, Fujian province, with the first to be in operation in 2018 (see see section below on Sanming).

See also Fast neutron reactors section in page on China’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle.

Embarking upon Generation III plants

In September 2004, the State Council approved plans for two units at Sanmen, followed by six units at Yangjiang (two to start with), these to be 1000 or 1500 MWe reactors pioneering Generation III nuclear technology from overseas. The Sanmen (in Zhejiang province) and Yangjiang (in Guangdong province) reactors were subject to an open bidding process for third-generation designs, with contracts to be awarded in mid-2006 – in the event, mid-2007 – putting them clearly into the 11th Five Year Plan.

Bidding process

This open bidding process underlined the extent to which China is making itself part of the world nuclear industry, and yet at first remaining somewhat ambivalent about that.

The USA, French and Russian governments were reported to be giving firm support as finance and support arrangements were put in place. The US Export-Import bank approved $5 billion in loan guarantees for the Westinghouse bid, and the French Coface company was expected similarly to finance Areva for its bid.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave approval for Westinghouse to export equipment and engineering services as well as the initial fuel load and one replacement for the four units. Bids for both two-unit plants were received in Beijing on behalf of the two customers: China Guangdong Nuclear Power Co (CGNPC) for Yangjiang, and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) for Sanmen. Bids were for the nuclear portion of each plant only, the turbine tenders to be called for subsequently.

In December 2006, 22 months after the bids were submitted and after several revisions to them, the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design was selected for the four units – two each at Sanmen and Yangjiang.

Sanmen 1&2 and Haiyang 1&2

A framework agreement was signed at the end of February 2007 between Westinghouse and SNPTC specifying Haiyang and Sanmen for the four AP1000 units. In July 2007, Westinghouse, along with consortium partner Shaw, signed the contracts with SNPTC, Sanmen Nuclear Power Company (51% owned by CNNC), Shangdong Nuclear Power Company (61% owned by CPI) and China National Technical Import & Export Corporation (CNTIC) for four AP1000 reactors.

Sanmen site works commenced in February 2008 and full construction on Sanmen 1 – the world’s first AP1000 unit – officially commenced on 19 April 2009. The reactor is expected to begin operation in August 2013 with the second about one year later.

AP1000 construction and equipment contracts

Westinghouse and Shaw Group have an engineering, procurement, commissioning and start-up as well as project management contract with SNPTC for the first four reactors (Sanmen & Haiyang).

In April 2007, Westinghouse signed a $350 million contract with Doosan Heavy Industries in Korea for two pressure vessels and four steam generators for Sanmen 1 and Haiyang 1.

In November 2010, further contracts were signed between SNPTC and Westinghouse, including one for Westinghouse to provide SNPTC with technical consulting services in research and development of the CAP1400 nuclear power plant, to be developed by SNPTC with Chinese intellectual property rights. Westinghouse said that having shared design technology with SNERDI, it expected 100% localization by 2015.


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