Nuclear power in China

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Control room of HTR-10 reactor at Tshinghua University
Turbine hall of Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant Phase 2 (China, June 2004).
Nuclear power generation in China (TWh)[1]
Nuclear power share of total electricity in China (%)[2][1]

As of March 2019, China has 46 nuclear reactors in operation with a capacity of 42.8 GW and 11 under construction with a capacity of 10.8 GW.[3][4] Additional reactors are planned for an additional 36 GW. China was planning to have 58 GW of capacity by 2020.[5] However, few plants have commenced construction since 2015, and it is now unlikely that this target will be met.[6]

China ranks third in the world in total nuclear power capacity installed. Around one tenth of global nuclear power is generated in China. Nuclear power contributed 4.2% of the total Chinese electricity production in 2018, with 294.4 TWh.[1] This is an increase from 3.9% and 247 TWh in 2017.[5]

Due to increasing concerns about air quality, climate change and fossil fuel shortages, nuclear power has been looked into as an alternative to coal.[7][8] China's National Development and Reform Commission has indicated the intention to raise the percentage of China's electricity produced by nuclear power from the current 3% to 6% by 2020 (compared to 20% in the United States and 74% in France).[9][failed verification] More long-term plans for future capacity are 120-150 GW by 2030.[10] China has two major nuclear power companies, the China National Nuclear Corporation operating mainly in north-east China, and the China General Nuclear Power Group, - formerly known as China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, - operating mainly in south-east China.[11]

China aims to maximize self-reliance on nuclear reactor technology manufacturing and design, although international cooperation and technology transfer are also encouraged. Advanced pressurized water reactors such as the Hualong One and the AP1000 are the mainstream technology in the near future, and the Hualong One is also planned to be exported.[12][13] By mid-century fast neutron reactors are seen as the main technology, with a planned 1400 GW capacity by 2100.[14][15][16] China is also involved in the development of nuclear fusion reactors through its participation in the ITER project, having constructed an experimental nuclear fusion reactor known as EAST located in Hefei,[17] as well as research and development into the thorium fuel cycle as a potential alternative means of nuclear fission.[18]


In 1955, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) was established. On 8 February 1970, China issued its first nuclear power plan, and the 728 Institute (now called Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute)[19] was founded. On 15 December 1991, China's first nuclear power reactor, a 288 MWe PWR at the Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant, was connected to the grid.[20] It is of type CNP-300.

In 1998, the CNNC was abolished.[21]

The nuclear safety plan of 2013 stated that beyond 2016 only Generation III plants would be started, and until then only a very few Generation II+ plants would be started.[22]

As of October 2016, all plants started between 2008 and 2010 were operating other than the six imported reactors, four AP1000s and two EPRs. Due to a reduced number of build starts since then, the 58 GW of nuclear capacity in service by 2020 target appears unlikely to be met.[23]

Safety and regulation[edit]

The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), under the China Atomic Energy Authority, is the licensing and regulatory body which also maintains international agreements regarding safety. It was set up in 1984 and reports to the State Council directly. In relation to the AP1000, NNSA works closely with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

China has requested and hosted 12 Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) missions from IAEA teams to October 2011, and each plant generally has one external safety review each year, either OSART, WANO peer review, or CNEA peer review (with the Research Institute for Nuclear Power Operations).[24]

The challenge (in the proposed rapid build-out of nuclear power) for the government and nuclear companies is to "keep an eye on a growing army of contractors and subcontractors who may be tempted to cut corners".[11] China is advised to maintain nuclear safeguards in a business culture where quality and safety are sometimes sacrificed in favor of cost-cutting, profits, and corruption. China has asked for international assistance in training more nuclear power plant inspectors.[11] In 2011, concerns were raised that rapid nuclear expansion could lead to a shortfall of fuel, equipment, qualified plant workers, and safety inspectors.[25][26]

Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, China announced on 16 March 2011, that all nuclear plant approvals were being frozen, and that 'full safety checks' of existing reactors would be made.[27][28] Although Zhang Lijun, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, has indicated that China's overall nuclear energy strategy would continue,[28] some commentators have suggested that additional safety-related costs and public opinion could cause a rethink in favor of an expanded renewable energy program.[28][29] In April 2011, China Daily reported that approvals for construction of nuclear power plants in marine areas have been suspended.[30] The safety inspections were due to finish by October 2011, and the current status of the projects is unclear.[31] In April 2012, Reuters reported that China was likely to resume nuclear power plants approvals sometime during the first half of 2012. The official target of a capacity of 40 GW by 2020 is unchanged but earlier plans to increase this to 86 GW has been reduced to 70-75 GW due shortages of equipment and qualified personnel as well as safety concerns.[32]

China's current methods for storing spent nuclear fuel (SNF) are only sustainable until the mid 2020s, and a policy to handle SNF needs to be developed.[33]

In 2017 new laws strengthened the powers of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, creating new "institutional mechanisms", a clearer "division of labour" and more disclosure of information.[34]

Reactor technologies[edit]


The most numerous reactor type in China is the CPR-1000, with 22 units operational. This reactor type is a Chinese development of the French 900 MWe three cooling loop design imported in the 1990s, with most of the components now built in China. Intellectual property rights are retained by Areva, which affects CPR-1000 overseas sales potential.[7]

China’s first CPR-1000 nuclear power plant, Ling Ao-3, was connected to the grid on 15 July 2010.[35] The design has been progressively built with increasing levels of Chinese components. Shu Guogang, GM of China Guangdong Nuclear Power Project said, "We built 55 percent of Ling Ao Phase 2, 70 percent of Hongyanhe, 80 percent of Ningde and 90 percent of Yangjiang Station."[36]

In 2010 the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation announced the ACPR1000 design, a further design evolution of the CPR-1000 to a Generation III level, which would also replace intellectual property right limited components. CGNPC aimed to be able to independently market the ACPR1000 for export by 2013.[37] A number of ACPR1000 are under construction in China, but for export this design was superseded by the Hualong One.

Hualong One[edit]

Since 2011 the China General Nuclear Power Group and the China National Nuclear Corporation have been progressively merging their CPR-1000 and ACP1000 designs, to become the joint Hualong One design. Both are three-loop designs originally based on the same French design, but had different nuclear cores. Power output will be 1150 MWe, with a 60-year design life, and would use a combination of passive and active safety systems with a double containment. The first units to be constructed will be Fuqing 5 and 6, followed by Fangjiashan 3 and 4, Fangchenggang 3 and 4. In December 2015 the two companies agreed to create Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology Co as a joint venture to promote the Hualong One in overseas markets,[12] which was officially launched in March 2016.[13]


The Westinghouse AP1000 is the main basis of China's move to Generation III technology, and involves a major technology transfer agreement. It is a 1250 MWe gross reactor with two coolant loops. The first four AP1000 reactors are being built at Sanmen and Haiyang, for CNNC and CPI respectively. At least eight more at four sites are firmly planned after them.[20]

In 2016 the build was reported to be running over three years late, mainly due to key component delays and project management issues.[38][23] In February 2018 Sanmen 2 completed hot testing, and in April 2018 Sanmen 1 began fuel loading.[39][40]

In July 2018 the first reactor was connected to the grid with commercial operation expected by the end of the year. [41]


In 2007 negotiations were started with the French company Areva concerning the EPR third generation reactors. Two Areva EPR reactors are being built at Taishan, and at least two more are planned. The reactors are 4590 MWt, with net power 1660 MWe.

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.

In 2016 the build was reported to be running over three years late, mainly due to key component delays and project management issues.[38][23]

In June 2018 the first reactor achieved criticality with full operation expected by the end of the year. [42]

CAP1400 development[edit]

In 2008 and 2009, Westinghouse made agreements to work with the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) and other institutes to develop a larger version of the AP1000, the CAP1400 of 1,400 MWe capacity, possibly followed by a 1,700 MWe design. China will own the intellectual property rights for these larger designs. Exporting the new larger units may be possible with Westinghouse's cooperation.[7]

In December 2009, a Chinese joint venture was set up to build an initial CAP1400 near the HTR-10 Shidaowan site.[7][43]

In September 2014 the Chinese nuclear regulator approved the design safety analysis following a 17-month review.[44] In May 2015 the CAP1400 design passed an International Atomic Energy Agency's Generic Reactor Safety Review.[45] In 2015 site preparation started, and approval to progress was expected by the end of the year.[46][47] However as of 2017, construction approval has been delayed mainly because of the long delays in completing the first AP1000.[48]

CANDU reactors[edit]

Two AECL 728MW CANDU-6 reactors are located at the Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant, the first went online in 2002,the second in 2003. CANDU reactors can use low grade reprocessed uranium from conventional reactors as fuel, thereby reducing China's stock of spent nuclear fuel.[49]

In September 2016 it was announced that SNC-Lavalin has signed an agreement in principle with CNNC and the Shanghai Electric Group to design, market and build the advanced CANDU reactor.[50]


The first two VVER-1000 units at Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant

Russia's Atomstroyexport was general contractor and equipment provider for the Tianwan AES-91 power plants using the V-428 version of the well-proven VVER-1000 reactor of 1060 MWe capacity. Russia's Energoatom is responsible for maintenance from 2009. Two further Tianwan units will use the same version of the VVER-1000 reactor.

On 7 March 2019 China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and Atomstroyexport signed the detailed contract for the construction of four VVER-1200s, two each at the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant and the Xudabao Nuclear Power Plant. Construction will start in May 2021 and commercial operation of all the units is expected between 2026 and 2028.[51]

Generation IV[edit]

The HTR-PM is as of May 2018 slated for completion in 2018. It is a HTGR, a Generation IV design. The HTR-PM is a descendant of the AVR reactor. A sodium-cooled fast reactor, the CFR-600, is under construction.


In July 2019 China National Nuclear Corporation announced it would start building a demonstration ACP100 small modular reactor (SMR) on the north-west side of the existing Changjiang Nuclear Power Plant by the end of the year.[52] Design of the ACP100 started in 2010. It is a fully integrated reactor module with an internal coolant system, with a 2 year refuelling interval, producing 385 MWt and about 125 MWe.[53]

Nuclear power plants[edit]

Most nuclear power plants in China are located on the coast and generally use seawater for cooling a direct once-through cycle. The New York Times has reported that China is placing many of its nuclear plants near large cities, and there is a concern that tens of millions of people could be exposed to radiation in the event of an accident.[11] China's neighboring Guangdong and Lingao nuclear plants have around 28 million people within a 75-kilometre radius that covers Hong Kong.[54]

Future projects[edit]

Following the Fukushima accident and consequent pause in approvals for new plants, the target adopted by the State Council in October 2012 became 60 GWe by 2020, with 30 GWe under construction. In 2015 the target for nuclear capacity on line in 2030 was 150 GWe, providing almost 10% of electricity, and 240 GWe in 2050 providing 15%. However the post-Fukushima slowdown may mean that the 2030 figure is only about 120 GWe.[55][10] These have reduced the targets from before the Fukushima accident of having over 80 GWe (6%) of installed capacity by 2020, and a further increase to more than 200 GW (16%) by 2030,[56] as agreed in the 22 March 2006 government "Long-term development plan for nuclear power industry from 2005 to 2020".[20] The State Council Research Office (SCRO) has recommended that China aim for no more than 100 GW before 2020 (built and building), in order to avoid a shortfall of fuel, equipment and qualified plant workers. It expressed concern that China is building several dozen more Generation 2 reactors, and recommended shifting faster to Generation 3 designs such as the AP1000.[57][58]

Following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, China froze new plant approvals,[27] followed by a slow down in the programme. No new approvals were made during 2014.[38] In 2015 the EPR and AP1000 builds were reported to be running over two years late, mainly due to key component delays and project management issues.[38] However these delays do not necessarily put the overall programme to 2030 in doubt.[38]

However from 2016 to 2018 there was a further hiatus in the new build programme, with no new approvals for at least two years, causing the programme to slow sharply. Delays in the Chinese builds of AP1000 and EPR reactors, together with the bankruptcy in the U.S. of Westinghouse, the designer of the AP1000, have created uncertainties about the future direction. Also some regions of China now have excess generation capacity, and it has become less certain to what extent electricity prices can economically sustain nuclear new build while the Chinese government is gradually liberalising the generation sector.[48][59]

This has led the Chinese Nuclear Association to question if China is on track to reach its 2020 goals.[60] In 2018 a Nuclear Engineering International journal analysis suggests a below-plan capacity of 90 GWe is plausible for 2030.[61]

The relative lack of water available for cooling reactors west of the Heihe–Tengchong Line (the area shown in yellow) is seen as a limiting factor for the development of traditional forms of nuclear power there.

In January 2011, the Chinese Academy of Sciences began the TMSR research and development project to create reactors which, among other advances, will be air-cooled. A small prototype reactor of this type is planned for 2020.[62] It will be sited in Gansu province,[63] in an industrial park in Minqin County.[64]

In February 2019, China's State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) signed a cooperation agreement with the Baishan municipal government in Jilin province for the Baishan Nuclear Energy Heating Demonstration Project, which would use a China National Nuclear Corporation DHR-400 (District Heating Reactor 400 MWt).[65][66]

The role of the IPPs[edit]

The first major successful profitable commercial project was the Daya Bay Nuclear Plant, which is 25% owned by CLP Group of Hong Kong and exports 70% of its electricity to Hong Kong. Such imports supply 20% of Hong Kong's electricity.

In order to access the capital needed to meet the 2020 target of 80GW, China has begun to grant equity in nuclear projects to China's Big Five power corporations:

Like the two nuclear companies China National Nuclear Corporation and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPG) the Big Five are State-owned "Central Enterprises" (中央企业) administered by SASAC. However, unlike the two nuclear companies, they have listed subsidiaries in Hong Kong and a broad portfolio of thermal, hydro and wind.

Summary of nuclear power plants[edit]

Summary table of nuclear power plants in China[67][2]
Nuclear power plant operational reactors reactors under construction reactors planned total
units net capacity (MW) units net capacity (MW) units net capacity (MW) units net capacity (MW)
Changjiang 2 1,220 N/A 2 1,220 4 2,440
CEFR 1 20 N/A N/A 1 20
Daya Bay (Dayawan) 2 1,888 N/A N/A 2 1,888
Fangchenggang 2 2,000 2 2,100 2 2,100 6 6,200
Fangjiashan 2 2,000 N/A N/A 2 2,000
Fuqing 4 4,000 2 2,100 N/A 6 6,100
Haiyang 2 2,200 N/A 6 6,600 8 8,000
Hongyanhe 4 4,244 2 2,000 N/A 6 6,244
Huizhou/Taipingling N/A N/A 2 2,100 2 2,100
Ling Ao 4 3,914 N/A N/A 4 3,914
Lufeng (Shanwei) N/A N/A 2 2,200 2 2,200
Ningde 4 4,072 N/A 2 2,100 6 6,172
Pengze N/A N/A 2 2,200 2 2,200
Qinshan 7 4,110 N/A N/A 7 4,110
Sanmen 2 2,314 N/A N/A 2 2,314
Shidao Bay (Shidaowan) N/A 2 1,600 1 1,400 3 3,000
Taishan 2 3,320 N/A N/A 2 3,320
Taohuajiang N/A N/A 4 4,400 4 4,400
Tianwan 4 3,960 2 2,000 2 2,200 8 8,230
Xianning N/A N/A 2 2,200 2 2,200
Xiapu N/A 1 600 1 600 2 1,200
Xudabao N/A N/A 4 4,400 4 4,400
Yangjiang 6 6,090 N/A N/A 6 6,090
Zhangzhou N/A N/A 2 2,100 2 2,100
Total 48 45,352 11 10,400 34 35,820 93 91,572

Nuclear waste[edit]

China is evaluating the construction of a high level waste (HLW) repository in the Gobi Desert, probably constructed near Beishan starting around 2041.[68]



Public opposition[edit]

China is experiencing civil protest over its ambitious plans to build more nuclear power plants following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. There has been "inter-provincial squabble" over a nuclear power plant being built near the southern bank of the Yangtze River. The plant in the centre of the controversy is located in Pengze county in Jiangxi and across the river the government of Wangjiang county in Anhui wants the project shelved.[69]

More than 1,000 people protested in Jiangmen City Hall in July 2013 to demand authorities abandon a planned uranium-processing facility that was designed as a major supplier to nuclear power stations. The Heshan Nuclear Power Industry Park was to be equipped with facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment as well as the manufacturing of fuel pellets, rods and finished assemblies. Protesters feared the plant would adversely affect their health, and the health of future generations. As the weekend protest continued, Chinese officials announced the state-run project's cancellation.[70]

By 2014, concerns about public opposition caused Chinese regulators to develop public and media support programmes, and developers to begin outreach programmes including site tours and visitor centres.[71]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]