China Set to Fire Up World’s First AP1000 Nuclear Reactor

(Bloomberg) -- China will soon be ready to start commercial operations of the world’s first next-generation AP1000 nuclear reactor, possibly setting off a renewed push by the country into atomic power after years of delays and billion-dollar cost blowouts.

The No. 1 reactor at the Sanmen power plant, designed by Westinghouse Electric Co., is expected to be ready for commercial operations Friday after completing a 168-hour test run, Shanghai-listed China National Nuclear Power Co. said in a statement to the exchange Thursday. It didn’t say when the unit, in the eastern Zhejiang province, will officially enter commercial power production.

China’s drive for cleaner energy has been a bright spot for a nuclear industry beset by cost overruns and stricter regulations in the wake of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster. The Sanmen startup may help advance the country’s ambitions to almost double nuclear capacity by 2020 as the approval of new reactors is seen dependent on the successful start of so-called third-generation reactors.

“It’s a landmark event for China’s nuclear power industry,” said Snowy Yao, a Hong Kong-based analyst at China Securities International Finance Holding Co. “It’s safe to say China is now one of the leaders in the world’s civil nuclear power industry.”

Westinghouse Collapse

These types of new units, including the AP1000, were designed to be easier and less expensive to install and operate, as well as safer. But they ended up being more expensive and difficult to build than expected, especially in the U.S., where cost overruns ultimately forced the bankruptcy last year of Westinghouse, the nuclear technology pioneer that has since been purchased by Brookfield Business Partners LP.

The first Sanmen AP1000 missed its original 2013 startup target due to design problems and supply chain bottlenecks. It’s also 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) over its original 40 billion yuan budget, as is a similar reactor being built in Haiyang, China Energy News reported in August, citing a State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. official.

China is also developing reactors designed by Electricite de France SA in Taishan in southwestern Guangdong province, where commercial operations are expected after it was connected to the grid in June.

Power generation from 38 operating units in the mainland rose 13 percent to 130 billion kilowatt hours in the first half of the year, about 4 percent of the nation’s total electricity output, according to China Nuclear Energy Association. Policy makers have targeted to boost nuclear capacity to 58 gigawatts by the end of the decade, compared with about 38 gigawatts currently.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.