(Bloomberg) -- China began fueling Westinghouse Electric Co.’s first next-generation nuclear reactor, a small step toward starting up the long-delayed unit.
The No. 1 reactor at the Sanmen nuclear power plant in Zhejiang province began fueling on Wednesday after getting government clearance, China National Nuclear Corp. and Westinghouse said in separate statements. Fuel loading was most recently scheduled for last summer, but it was delayed indefinitely as the developers waited to receive approval from China’s nuclear regulator.
China has emerged as a bright spot for a nuclear industry beset by cost overruns and competition from cheaper natural gas, as well as stricter regulations after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The country has become a magnet for Western reactor-makers that have targeted its expanding energy demand growth.
“The first loading of nuclear fuel is a major milestone and one of the most important steps in a project,” said Lake Barrett, a former official at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Given that this is the first of this type of reactor, I expect that this will be one of the most detailed startup testing programs ever performed. The whole world will be carefully watching.”
Designs and Delays
The development comes after Chinese regulators approved fuel-loading of a French-designed EPR reactor in the southern province of Guangdong on April 10. That unit, Taishan No. 1, was previously scheduled to start last year, but has been repeatedly postponed since construction began in 2009.
The future of Westinghouse, which was purchased by Brookfield Business Partners LP after it filed for bankruptcy last year, may depend on the success in China of its marquee reactor being built at Sanmen, known as the AP1000. Firing up the unit would be a vote of confidence in the company’s designs and could trigger orders from other nations seeking atomic energy.
Westinghouse, based in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, originally planned to start its first AP1000 reactor at Sanmen in 2013, but completion was delayed due to design problems, supply chain bottlenecks and stronger safety measures. The AP1000 is a so-called generation III+ reactor, designed to be easier and less expensive to install and operate, with enhanced safety features.
While the Chinese government hasn’t approved construction of any new, non-demonstration reactors since 2015, it said last month that it aims to start building eight units this year. In November, Westinghouse signed contracts with State Nuclear Power Technology Co. and its subsidiaries for six AP1000 reactors. New units are key to China’s effort to boost atomic capacity by over 50 percent to 58 gigawatts by the end of the decade, the biggest planned build out globally.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
With assistance from Stephen Stapczynski, Jing Yang, Aibing Guo