21 September 2013

New Reactor Under Construction at Yangjiang, China

After long delays in moving forward with their nuclear reactor construction program following the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident, the pouring of concrete for Yangjiang-5 located in Guangdong Province in southern China began on 18 September 2013. The reactor is the reportedly more advanced CPR-1000+, nevertheless described by the U.S. Government as obsolete as early as 2010, while the first four Yangjiang units are CPR-1000 pressurized water reactors. The site’s final unit, number 6, also to be a CPR-1000+, is slated to start construction in 2014. All the reactors are scheduled to be in operation by 2018, producing around 6,100 MWe. A total of 29 reactors are currently under construction in China. Worldwide the CPR-1000 is by far the most prolific reactor currently under construction, with 19 in China. This Generation-II reactor is a modified version of the Framatome CPO/CP1/CP2 series of reactors which were built in France from 1970 (34 units in total). While modifications were made through the 900 series, in the words of French utility EDF, the largest nuclear utility in the world: “Simply speaking, the equipments inside the plants of the same series are identical and they are laid out in the same manner. The only differences concern the foundations (for example, at Cruas, considering the site’s seismicity, the foundation raft had to be installed on a seismic bearing pad), the heat sink (certain units are cooled directly by the river, others use seawater or cooling towers) and the connection to the power grid.” The original design had been supplied to France under license from Westinghouse. In the 1980’s, Framatome/AREVA secured contracts for the building of the 900 series in China. The China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Corporation or CGNPC, which is part-owned by the State controlled China National Nuclear Corp, then adapted the design and labelled it the CPR-1000, described as a Generation II+ design.

Safety concerns over the aged design of the CPR-1000 existed prior to the Fukushima-Daiichi accident. In 2010, Bernard Bigot, chairman of France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), told trade journal Nucleonics Week the CPR-1000 does not meet key safety criteria, ”in particular because it doesn’t have a double protective shell surrounding the reactor building”. Chinese nuclear officials defending the design have cited measures to reduce the risk of vessel melt-through, to limit the risk of loss of coolant accidents, and to increase the capacity to cope with hydrogen formation under containment, as well as the back fit of digital instrumentation & control systems.

However, the view that only minor modifications have been made to the CPR-1000 design is also confirmed by Chinese scientists.