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Chinese Nuclear Power Station Tianwan 5 Nears Completion

image credit: Unit 5 of the Tianwan nuclear power plant completes its first fuel loading on July 9th. Image: CNNC
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  • Aug 7, 2020

New nuclear plant is part of the country's energy transition


Mainland China is a significant producer of nuclear power. It has 40 nuclear power reactors in operation, and about 20 under construction, including Unit 5 at the Tianwan nuclear power plant, an ACPR-1000 reactor that is nearing completion. The first fuel rods were loaded on July 9th. Initial grid power is expected later this year. The facility is located in Eastern China, about 400 km South East of Beijing in the important coastal economic zone, which is hungry for energy.

China is one of the world's largest producers of nuclear power. The country ranks third in the world both in total nuclear power capacity installed and electricity generated, accounting for around ten per cent of nuclear power generated globally. The Chinese development of nuclear power is because of the pollution emitted by their many coal-fired plants. The objective, as stated in the government's Energy Development Strategy Action Plan 2014-2020, is for 58 GW of capacity by 2020, with 30 GW more under construction. 69% of Chinese electricity was delivered by coal in 2019; heavy pollution was experienced in various parts of the country as well as some power outages.

China is mostly self-sufficient in construction and operation. It has both indigenous designs and modifications of Western types – the ACPR-1000 is an improvement on the previous CPR-1000 design, which was itself based on a French model. The industrial objective is to be able to export nuclear power plants globally.

The distribution network operated by the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) and China Southern Power Grid Co (CSG) is modern and rapidly increasing, utilizing ultra high voltage (1000 kV AC and 800 kV DC) transmission. In 2020, SGCC plans to invest CNY 1.2 trillion ($170 billion) in improvements, of which CNY 500 billion ($72 billion) will be for ultra-high voltage (UHV) transmission.

Besides the pollution aspect, there are many other reasons for China to move away from coal. Most of the mines are in the North of the country. Transporting coal to power plants is costly, as well as putting strain on the rail infrastructure. Many of the steam turbine coal-fired power plants are in water-stressed areas, which is making Chinese authorities uneasy as Climate Change progresses.

Tianwan nuclear power plant is located in Lianyungang, in East China’s Jiangsu province. Courtesy: CNNC

Nuclear plants can be built close to demand centers in the coastal cities, which are booming economically and in need of an increased power supply. Nuclear power is already competitive financially with other sources, and the wholesale price-to-grid has been cheaper than power from coal plants with flue gas desulfurization, although not more basic coal power stations.

Construction at Tianwan, which China National Nuclear Power Corporation (CNNC) said has become “an important clean energy base in East China,” commenced nearly two decades ago. The plant already composes four AES-91 VVER-1000 pressurized water reactors (PWRs). Units 1 and 2 began commercial operation in 2007, with Units 3 and 4 coming online in 2018.

Construction of Unit 5 began in December 2015, while Unit 6 started construction in September 2016. Both are domestically-developed ACPR-1000 PWRs, rated at 1,080 MW. Commercial power is expected from Unit 5 later this year.

Nuclear power looks to become an increasing feature of the Chinese grid system in the decades to come, particularly as an alternative to coal-based fossil fuel plants. There is much debate about coal potential in China, although the necessity of a transition away from fossil fuels is clear, and much of China's coal fleet could easily become "stranded assets".

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 7, 2020

"Nuclear plants can be built close to demand centers in the coastal cities, which are booming economically and in need of an increased power supply."

Not coincidentally, demand centers are built next to sources of water, either lakes and streams providing fresh water for human consumption, or oceans providing access to global trade. Both serve as excellent sources of the water needed to cool heat from nuclear fission.

Unlike the U.S., superpowers China and Russia are busily adding nuclear capacity at home and developing nuclear technology for export. We cede this $7 trillion industry to them with a corresponding loss in geopolitical influence.

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