First criticality for Hongyanhe nuclear reactor and China’s Nuclear Energy plans

Unit 1 of the Hongyanhe plant in Liaoning province in northeast China has moved closer to commissioning by achieving a sustained chain reaction. The 1080 MWe reactor achieved first criticality on 16 January, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Co (CGNPC) and China Power Investment Corp (CPI) reported.

Construction of Hongyanhe 1 – the first of four CPR-1000 pressurized water reactors (PWRs) currently being built at the Hongyanhe Phase I project – started in August 2007.

Previously scheduled to begin commercial operation by the end of 2012, Hongyanhe 1 now looks set to enter operation this year. All four units at Phase I should be in operation by the end of 2014.

Industry experts hope China will now favor imported over homemade technology, at least until the local engineers can prove the safety of their designs. That may be a blow to native pride, but it is probably good news for foreign vendors—as well as for ordinary Chinese.

China’s restarted nuclear program will unfurl more slowly than had originally been planned, with a less ambitious target (only 130-140 gigawatts of installed capacity now seem likely by 2030). The officials have cancelled projects located in inland regions prone to earthquakes and short of water, and are increasing training for operators and funding for regulators.

What is more, officials are insisting that newly licensed plants adhere to higher “generation three” standards. Many current plants are of an older design that requires electric pumps for cooling; notoriously, these failed at Fukushima after the tsunami. Newer plants, for example those made by America’s Westinghouse and France’s Areva, have “passive” safety features, such as gravity-driven cooling, that should work even during power cuts.

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