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China’s slower, more expensive, nuclear energy plan

China moves cautiously ahead on nuclear energy, China Daily Mail,  BY MICHAEL B. CALYN ⋅ APRIL 25, 2013⋅ “…....Based on the new plan, China will only approve a few new reactor construction projects before 2016. China now expects to grow its total nuclear capacity to 58 GWe by 2020, rather than the more than 80 GWe previously expected.

The government resumed approval of new nuclear power projects in December 2012, just as the new plan was issued. Several inland nuclear power projects where significant preparation work had already begun will be suspended, with some of their equipment likely transferred to coastal sites. While the pace of Chinese nuclear development will slow in the near term, the country’s long-term goals haven’t changed significantly…..

On May 31, 2012, the State Council approved two plans submitted by the National Nuclear Safety Administration. The first, the Comprehensive Safety Inspection Report on Civilian Nuclear Facilities PDF, indicated that most Chinese nuclear power plants meet both domestic safety regulations and the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The report did, however, reveal that some nuclear plants lacked adequate guidelines for accident prevention and mitigation, some did not meet new requirements on flood prevention, and some could be damaged in the event of a tsunami. Also, the report found, some research reactors did not meet new earthquake requirements.

The inspection report required civilian nuclear facilities to phase in safety improvements in 16 areas by 2015. By the end of 2012, the facilities were required to finish urgent improvements, including those involving flood prevention, mobile backup emergency power systems, and capacity to respond to earthquakes.

The second plan approved by the State Council, the Twelfth Five-Year Plan and the 2020 Vision of Nuclear Safety and Radioactive Pollution Prevention — the Nuclear Safety Plan PDF, for short — goes farther. It requires that all operating reactors maintain good safety records and avoid accidents. New reactors must put in place prevention and mitigation measures for severe accidents.

The plan also sets regulatory limits, requiring that newly constructed reactors experience accidents that damage their cores less than one time in every 100,000 years of operation; the frequency of accidents that result in large radioactive releases must be less than one event in one million years. For reactors constructed after 2016, the plan calls for efforts to eliminate large radioactive release accidents altogether.

To achieve these goals, the Nuclear Safety Plan requires the government to invest 79.8 billion renminbi, or about $13 billion, in five major projects by 2015: nuclear safety improvement, radioactive pollution control, scientific research and innovation, accident and emergency response, and regulatory capacity building.

To implement the Nuclear Safety Plan’s proposals, the National Nuclear Safety Administration is developing a new set of safety requirements, updating the regulatory system, and perfecting nuclear safety supervision procedures.

Rising Costs, Homegrown Innovation

China’s National Energy Administration has also been urging the nation toward greater nuclear safety. In October 2012, an executive meeting of the State Council approved the Nuclear Power Safety Plan (2011-2020) drawn up by the administration.

According to a news report (Chinese), the State Council emphasised that nuclear power development must follow the principle of safety first in every phase; that the most advanced proven technology should be used; that safety upgrades to new and existing nuclear power units should be carried out continuously; that safety management of nuclear power should be strengthened and emergency management and response ability should be enhanced; and that public oversight of, and cultivation of public opinion on, nuclear power should be strengthened.

The new safety requirements will have major implications. Capital costs for each nuclear power plant could increase by 10 to 20 percent. Moreover, these plans will likely push Chinese companies to develop homegrown Gen III reactor designs, instead of relying mainly on imported technology. China is constructing four plants with Gen III reactors purchased from the American company Westinghouse, and two with Gen III reactors from France’s Areva. By the end of 2013, though, Beijing is expected to start construction on a Gen III reactor of 1,400 MWe based on a proprietary design developed by Chinese scientists.


The Way Forward

While China has taken important steps towards greater nuclear safety, to make the changes real it must enhance the independence, authority, and effectiveness of its regulators. Since 2008, China has had three major nuclear safety regulators: the China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA), part of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology; the National Energy Administration (NEA), part of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC); and the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), part of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP).

Unfortunately, overlapping and ill-defined responsibilities among these agencies have made for unnecessary duplication and imposed complicated requirements on reactor operators.

China should streamline this system and speed up the adoption of new laws on atomic energy and safety. Beijing has not yet issued a comprehensive law on the use of nuclear energy. A first step would be to quickly pass the draft atomic energy law that was completed in 2011 and is currently circulating among government ministries…..


April 25, 2013 - Posted by | China, politics

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