Wednesday, November 24, 2010

China: China rapidly becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction

By Taro Ichikawa
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

TOKYO (IDN) - China is rapidly becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle, according to a dossier by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), which places the number of atomic power reactors in operation in China at 13.

Twenty-five nuclear reactors are under construction, and more are about to start construction soon, says the paper. Additional reactors that are planned, include 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.

GWe is an acronym for gigawatt electrical, one gigawatt being equal to one billion watts. This unit is sometimes used for large power plants or power grids. For example, in 2009, the installed capacity of wind power in the U.S. was 35.2 GW and the installed capacity of wind power in Germany was 25.8 GW. The largest two units (out of four) of the Belgian Nuclear Plant Doel each has a peak output of 1.01 GW.

Most of 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.

The WNA points out that the rapid growth in demand has given rise to power shortages, and the reliance on fossil fuels has led to much air pollution. The economic loss due to pollution is put by the World Bank at almost 6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2009 power shortages were most acute in central provinces, particularly Hubei, and in December the Central China Grid Co. posted a peak load of 94.6 GW.

Domestic electricity production in China 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.

Capacity growth is expected to slow, says the dossier, 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 and annual carbon dioxide emissions by 139 million tonnes.

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, argues the WNA.

China recently overtook the United States as the world's largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. 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.

The WNA says: 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.

Moves to build nuclear power commenced in 1970 and the industry has now moved to a rapid development phase. 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.

Government targets for nuclear power have been increasing. As of June 2010, official installed nuclear capacity targets are understood to be 80 GWe by 2020, 200 GWe by 2030 and 400 GWe by 2050.

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.