The impetus for new build is being spurred by a need to reduce reliance on polluting coal China has 10 nuclear units under construction including two Generation III Hualong One plants at Fangchenggang. China, with its state nuclear companies backed by a government hungry for development, is the most active nation for building new nuclear power plants. That trend that is likely to continue, although confirming lucrative export deals for its reactor technology still runs far behind the pace set by Russia, which says it had 39 reactors under construction or planned overseas as of 2018.
This compares to only two reactors under construction overseas by China, both in Pakistan, although in the UK China has a stake in EDF’s Hinkley Point C project and plans for Chinese technology at Bradwell B. At Sizewell C in Suffolk EDF wants to build a clone of Hinkley Point C if it can attract enough private investment. CGN holds a 20% share.
The government has said it wants to build 30 reactors overseas by 2030. China and Russia both see Africa, where about 600 million people live without electricity, as something of a golden fleece and are pursuing nuclear agreements, which lay the groundwork for new-build, in a number of African nations. Small modular reactors and floating reactors could be an option for isolated areas. China has already said it is close to starting work on its first floating unit, but reliable details are few and far between.
The impetus for nuclear power in China is increasingly due to air pollution from coal-fired plants. To meet its climate goal as stipulated in the Paris agreement, China will need to reduce its coal power capacity by 40% over the next decade, according to Global Energy Monitor’s analysis. At present, this seems unrealistic. In addition to roughly 1,000 GW of existing coal capacity, China has 121 GW of coal plants under construction, which is more than is being built in the rest of the world combined.
China has 48 nuclear power reactors in operation, 10 under construction, and more about to start construction. Almost all of the new starts are at coastal sites due to limitations on getting large components transported inland. It is aiming for 58 GW of installed nuclear capacity by 2020 – up from about 36 GW today.
After building and commissioning four Westinghouse AP1000s and two Areva EPRs, China is now investing heavily in a domestic design of a 1,000-MW pressurised water reactor, the Generation III HPR1000, or Hualong One, which is also being offered for export. China continues to buy nuclear reactors from Russia and in December signed a deal that could lead to the construction of two advanced heavy water reactors from Canada’s Candu Energy Inc. The contract was awarded by China National Nuclear Power Co Ltd (CNNP) for pre-project work. CNNP is planning the construction of two AHWRs in China in or around 2021.
China is making significant investments in nuclear energy R&D, especially for molten salt, high temperature gas, and even thorium-fuelled reactors. By comparison, while Beijing is investing billions in new nuclear technologies, so far the US has spent only millions and has a long way to go to catch up.
In India, which has a nuclear share of about 3.1%, nuclear energy’s share of electricity is increasing, but at a much slower pace than coal and renewables. The government has an ambitious objective to reach 63 GW of installed nuclear power capacity by 2032, a large increase compared to today’s installed capacity of around 7 GW in 2019. One of India’s most pressing problems is that it relies relies on coal for about 48% of its energy generation.
India has kept western nuclear reactor vendors at arms length, due in part to a strict supplier liability law, while pushing ahead with construction of 1,000-MW VVER units at Kudankulam from Russia’s Rosatom.
In 2019 India committed to the construction of a 700-MW PHWR type design and announced plans to build 10 of them with seven more on the drawing board. This domestic plant, two of which are under construction at Kakrapar, is based on Canada’s Candu technology. It is seen as a sensible option for India to build with its domestic supply chain because the units do not require the large forgings needed for reactor pressure vessels in PWRs.
Neighbouring Pakistan has five commercial reactors and a nuclear share of 6.8%. It has two plants under construction, Kanupp-2 and Kanupp-3. Both are nearing completion and the first could enter commercial operation in 2021. Both units are of the Chinese Hualong One design. It is a three-loop PWR with Generation-III safety features, incorporating elements of the ACP1000 and ACPR1000+ reactor designs.
According to the IAEA, an energy policy formulated by the government set a target of 8,800 MW of nuclear generation capacity by 2030, up from about 1,300 MW today. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission has gone about meeting this target with the core idea of improving indigenisation capability in nuclear power technology. This will not only reduce costs and save on foreign exchange, but also reduce dependence on external elements and expand the nation’s industrial and technological foundations.
The IAEA says the PAEC is planning a 1,100 MW PWR, construction of which is expected to start this year with commercial operation in 2027.
South Korea faces an uncertain future for its domestic nuclear fleet due to a government policy announced in 2017 of shutting all of its reactors by 2045. Under a long-term energy plan to lower dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power, the South Korean government plans to retire 11 out of the country’s 24 commercial nuclear reactors by the end of 2030.
Support for the manufacturing side of the nuclear supply chain, and the threat of significant job losses at the country’s 24 reactors (with four under construction) may eventually force a change to that policy. The government must also come to terms with how it will replace lost nuclear capacity, which accounts for about 24% of generation.
South Korea has four APR1400 plants under construction at Barakah in the United Arab Emirates. The Seoul government sees nuclear technology exports as a way of reviving the domestic nuclear industry. It recently signed an updated agreement with the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in Saudi Arabia to create a joint venture for the construction of a low-power small modular nuclear reactor in the Middle East kingdom.
The SMR technology being planned for Saudi Arabia is the Korea Atomic Research Institute’s “system-integrated modular advanced reactor” (Smart), a medium-sized unit designed for generating electricity and for thermal applications such as seawater desalination. Scientists in South Korea have been developing the technology for 22 years.
In another move aimed at the export market, South Korea completed the US regulator’s safety design review of its APR1400, the same type of plant under construction at Barakah. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company (KHNP) and its parent company Korea Electric Power Corporation submitted the application in December 2014.
In Japan, the main theme in the coming years is likely to be more frustration over the slow pace of reactor restarts.
Japan has 62 nuclear power units, but shut down all 42 that were operating at the time after the Fukushima-Daiichi accident. This has led to increased imports of coal and natural gas to keep the lights on. The cost of these imports is a strain on the nation’s economy. Thirty-three units have a licence to operate although before units return to service they need to meet stricter safety standards introduced following the accident.
Nine units have returned to service. They are Genkai-3 and -4, Ikata-3, Ohi-3 and -4, Sendai-1 and -2, and Takahama-3 and -4.
Restarts have taken so much time partly because the Nuclear Regulatory Agency has leaned hard on Japan’s nuclear utilities over anti-terrorism requirements and measures to mitigate the effects of volcanic eruptions.
Challenges to restarts have also come from provincial politicians who have found success in getting elected by criticising the nuclear energy industry. The closure of the reactors, and the long, uncertain process to restart them, has hit local economies that depended on the payroll from plant employment and the economic multiplier effect of plant purchases of parts and supplies.
Japan’s exports of nuclear reactors have dried up with both Hitachi and Mitsubishi withdrawing from planned deals in the UK due to higher than expected costs and uncertainties over customer financing.
Japan does not have any significant technology developed, beyond R&D lab scale projects, for either small modular reactors or high temperature gas reactors.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the country’s nuclear share in 2018 was about 6.2%. Before Fukushima, Japan generated about 30% of its electricity from nuclear and planned to increase that to 40%.
An energy white paper adopted by the Cabinet called for further efforts to cut carbon emissions by keeping to a nuclear generation target of 20% to 22%.
There has been some potentially positive news from Japan. In August 2019, four of Japan’s major energy and nuclear power companies signed an agreement to discuss potential collaboration on boiling water reactor projects – a move that could lead to construction of a new nuclear power plant at Higashidori in the north of the country.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, Chubu Electric Power Company, Hitachi and Toshiba said the agreement was signed with the aim of creating “sustainable business operations” for the safe and economical operation of the BWR business, and constructing and operating nuclear power plants.
The Tokyo-based Japan Atomic Industrial Forum said given that no BWRs have yet been restarted following the March 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident, maintaining the technology and human resources for the reactors is a major issue.
In Southeast Asia, the International Energy Agency says nuclear could provide around 2% of the share of power generation by 2040. Nuclear power does not feature in Southeast Asia’s energy mix, although according to the IEA a number of countries are considering it as an option.
Thailand includes 2 GW of nuclear power capacity by 2036 in its national power development plan. Vietnam also makes provision for its introduction by 2030 in its power development plan, although the plan has been suspended. Malaysia and Indonesia recognise nuclear power as an energy option in their national plans, but there is no specific plan to introduce it.
The Philippines has a nuclear station at Bataan, north of Manila, but it has never operated and has been mothballed. The country does, however, seem to be making more progress than its neighbours with regards to new build. Congress has approved legislation that calls for a regulatory framework to be established with a view to using nuclear for energy production, health and medicine, scientific research, education and agriculture. In October energy secretary Alfonso Cusi said the government will prepare a detailed plan for the IAEA on how it could embark on a nuclear power programme.
A longer version of this article appears on the Neutron Bytes blog by Dan Yurman. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djysrv