Chinese Civilian Nuclear Energy in Their Security Policy: The Russian Dimension


2012-12-13 by Richard Weitz

Nuclear energy is a part of overall Chinese security policy, but a fairly limited one.

At present, China’s 11 operating nuclear reactors produce less than 2% of the country’s electricity, compared with over 25 percent in Japan and approximately 75 percent in France.

Despite the nuclear disaster in Japan, the Chinese government aims to double this figure to 4 percent by 2020, with an aggregate capacity of 40,000 megawatts (MW).

Russia is a supplier but not the only one for the PRC.

The Atomstroyexsport Corporation, a unit of Russia’s Federal Nuclear Energy Agency (Rosatom), has a monopoly on the export of Russian nuclear energy equipment and services. The Russian government and nuclear industry are eager to sustain and ideally expand their presence in the PRC’s expanding nuclear market by selling additional Russian reactors and other nuclear technologies and services.

Besides the financial incentives of selling nuclear services to a growing Chinese market, winning many of on-going and future Chinese tenders would showcase Russia’s technological prowess outside the defense sector and help convince other countries to buy Russian nuclear products. The Russian government is seeking to expand use of nuclear power in Russia, and needs orders from China and other foreign countries to help defray the costs of researching and developing new nuclear power technologies.

Tianwan-1 And -2 Nuclear Reactors, China. Credit: 

Under the terms of a 1997 contract signed with the Jiangsu nuclear power corporation, Atomstroyexport began constructing in 1999 two 1,000-megawatt pressurized water nuclear reactors (using improved VVER-1000 reactors and K-100-6/3000 turbo-generators) at the Tianwan nuclear power plant in Lianyungang, a port city in Jiangsu province in eastern China.

At the time, the Tianwan plant represented the largest ever-commercial project between the two countries.

Atomstroyexport was responsible for designing the plant, supplying essential equipment and supplies, constructing and assembling the plant, as then training the Chinese personnel to run the complex. After some lengthy delays, the first unit of the Tianwan started regular commercial operations in May 2007. The second started operating shortly thereafter. The Tianwan nuclear power plant has sufficient physical space to hold eight power-generating units and Russian energy experts hope to build eight reactors at the site.

In November 2007, China signed a preliminary agreement with Russia to build two more 1,000 MW nuclear reactors at Tianwan.

They agreed to a more detailed memorandum of understanding on the issue in October 2008. In March 2010, Atomstroiexport negotiated a framework agreement with the Jiangsu nuclear power corporation on constructing two more VVER-1000 reactors. Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko said that work on the extension project would begin in 2011.

When they met in November 2010, Putin and Wen signed a more concrete agreement to build the third and fourth units of the Tianwan nuclear power plant. Atomstroiexport issued a statement that it would build two 1,060 megawatt-capacity reactors with China’s Jiangsu Nuclear Power Corporation designing the facility and supplying some of the equipment. The total costs of the two new reactors could reach almost $2 billion.

The Russian and Chinese governments also are considering the joint provision of nuclear fuel services (such as uranium enrichment as well as nuclear fuel transfers and storage) to third-party markets. A logical extension of this bilateral cooperation would be to extend it to the multilateral Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This was indicated by the suggestion made in September 2006 by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov that all SCO members could profitably use Russia’s new nuclear fuel service center in Angarsk.

At this April’s 12th China International Nuclear Industry Exhibition in Beijing, Russia’s Atomenergomash company exhibited its BN-800 reactor, developed by the Afrikantov Experimental Mechanical Engineering Design Bureau. In 2011 the first experimental fast neutron reactor (CEFR) was commissioned at the Chinese Research Institute of Nuclear Power with the participation of Afrikantov. BN-800 is the first integral type sodium reactor based on the prototype fast reactor BN-600, which has been successfully operated since 1980. The first power generating unit with BN-800 reactor will be installed at Beloyarskaya NPP-2 in Russia and is scheduled for commissioning in 2014. Atomenergomash, a division of Rosatom, is one of Russia’s leading energy machine building holding companies.

Nonetheless, no new concrete Russian nuclear energy projects have been launched in China in recent years.

And the Chinese government has taken care to purchase advanced nuclear power plants from France and the United States as well as Russia.

One reason for Beijing’s approach is that Chinese energy managers, like their counterparts in the Chinese defense industry, complain about the quality of Russian products and services.

Unit one and two with the construction site of unit three and four of Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant. Credit: 

The Tianwan plant had been suffering from considerable cost overruns and work delays. Representatives of Atomstroyexport have blamed most of these problems on the poor quality of equipment supplied by the company’s subcontractors in Russia, as well as on frequent changes in the system’s technical requirements demanded by the Chinese government. Chinese irritation was not lessened by the fact that, under the terms of the contract, Atomstroyexport has to compensate China financially for these delays.

Another consideration behind Beijing’s caution has been that Russian suppliers have proven reluctant to sell China their most advanced nuclear energy technologies.

As with their weapons sales, Russians worry that Chinese scientists and technicians will learn from any transferred technology how to further improve the quality of their indigenous production.

At present, Chinese companies possess the know-how required to construct second-generation reactors, capable of generating 600 megawatts of power, but not third-generation reactors like those constructed in Russia nowadays. Not only would extensive technology transfers reduce Chinese interest in purchasing Russian nuclear technology, but China could also become a formidable competitor in profitable third-country nuclear energy markets such as Egypt, Myanmar, and perhaps even India.

Another reason China refuses to purchase only Russian nuclear technologies is to warn Moscow that Beijing too has energy options.

For years, Russian energy companies and government officials have been playing off potential foreign energy clients against each other. Threatening Europeans with the specter of diverting future Russia energy shipments to Asia, and vice-versa, has been a favorite tactic.

For example, in the course of his company’s difficult negotiations with potential Chinese buyers of Russian oil delivered by rail through Mongolia, Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov warned that, “Our partners must understand that Russia has a surplus rather than a deficit of pipeline capacity, and we can also supply oil to Europe.”

By purchasing its nuclear reactors from U.S.-based Westinghouse (which is owned by Japan’s Toshiba) and France’s Areva, Chinese officials have demonstrated that they too can exploit competition among the multiple American, European, and Asian energy suppliers eager to do business with China.

Also see the following:

Pressing the Nuclear Restart Button

March 01st, 2012 | Beijing Review

China will continue to safely develop nuclear power after a one-year construction hiatus

After a yearlong suspension, construction of nuclear power facilities across China may be starting up again, signaling the resumption of a 1-trillion-yuan ($158.73 billion) nuclear investment across the country.

In February, Harbin Electric Corp., one of China’s major nuclear power equipment producers, received an order for the main components required in nuclear power generation from Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant, located in Lianyungang, east China’s Jiangsu Province. This was the first order since the country suspended nuclear power projects last March following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan.

Although nothing official has been announced, industry insiders say the suspension has been lifted, as the construction of the No.1 generating unit of Sanmen Nuclear Power Plant in east China’s Zhejiang Province restarted, and three nuclear power-related planning reports were recently submitted to the State Council for review. The reports are expected to be officially released later this year.

Safety check

After the nuclear accident at Fukushima on March 11, 2011, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao chaired a State Council meeting on March 16 and made four decisions on China’s nuclear power development: A complete safety check was required immediately on all nuclear facilities; approval of newly built nuclear power projects will be tightened; formulation of a nuclear safety plan will be accelerated; middle and long-term development plan of nuclear power will be readjusted, and before the plan is approved, approval of nuclear power projects, including preliminary work of the projects, should be suspended.

Following the meeting, a nation-wide safety screening on all operational and under-construction nuclear power facilities was put into effect, with approval of some construction projects suspended outright. From April 15 to August 5, the comprehensive check group on national civil nuclear facilities jointly organized by the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), the National Energy Administration (NEA) and some other departments checked all the country’s power plants.

The safety check drew lessons from the Fukushima accident, forcing many nuclear power operators to take a more aggressive approach to nuclear power safety.

On January 21, the generating units at the Ling’ao Nuclear Power Plant in south China’s Guangdong Province were upgraded, which ended on February 10. The overhaul showed that the plant was in good condition. Starting on February 12, the generators at Tianwan began a 50-day overhaul, including 8,436 checks on individual components and technological upgrades.

Wang Binghua, Chairman of the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., said besides safety check of nuclear power facilities in operation, designing, equipment manufacturing and construction of projects with third-generation AP1000 technology have been slowed down.

In fact, the AP1000 projects in Sanmen and Haiyang, east China’s Shandong Province are safer than second-generation technology used at Fukushima. But China still places safety, not just technology upgrading, as its top priority in the construction of the third-generation nuclear power technology.

Capacity expanded

According to NEA’s Readjustment Plan of Middle and Long-Term Development of Nuclear Power, which has been submitted to the State Council for approval, China plans to install a total nuclear power capacity of 80 million kilowatts (kw) by 2020.

Donghai Securities Co. Ltd. estimated that at least 60 million kw of nuclear power installed capacity will be added by 2020, excluding the capacity under construction now, which will drive up investment by 1.2 trillion yuan ($190.48 billion).

A plan previously issued by the National Development and Reform Commission says by 2020 the proportion of renewable energy among primary energy consumption will reach 15 percent, but in 2011, the proportion was only 8.9 percent, and nuclear power only accounted for 1.038 percent of the country’s primary energy consumption.

Pan Ziqiang, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and an expert of nuclear radiation protection and environmental protection, said the disparity will be made up for mainly through development of nuclear power, because most exploitable hydropower resources have been developed, leaving little potential for future development. Also, restricted by technologies and natural conditions, wind power, solar energy and biomass energy are unlikely to see rapid development. Compared with other clean energies, only nuclear power can be developed in a large enough scale to meet China’s energy needs.

An MEP news release showed that in the future China’s safety standards for nuclear power will be raised. The Nuclear Safety Plan completed by the MEP and submitted to the State Council mainly focuses on supervision so as to improve the safety of nuclear power facilities and nuclear power utilization, reduce risks of radiation, ensure operation safety and safety to the environment and public health, and push forward safe, sound and sustainable development of nuclear energy and technology.

China has also made changes to its supervision mechanism for nuclear safety. The NEA will set up a nuclear power department, the NNSA will increase from one department to three and the number of nuclear safety supervision personnel will increase by 1,000, the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense will also set up a department of nuclear emergencies.

Doubts remain

As China gears up to resume approval of nuclear power projects, arguments against construction of new nuclear power plants abound.

On February 7, a government document requiring the cessation of the nuclear power project construction in Pengze, Jiangxi Province attracted widespread attention on the Internet. The document was issued by the government of Wangjiang County, Anhui Province, as the project in Pengze sits along the Yangtze River, on the opposite shore from Wangjiang.

This report says Pengze nuclear power project will have hidden dangers if completed.

Establishment of Pengze nuclear power plant was approved two years ago, but was suspended by the State Council after the Fukushima accident last year.

The opposition of Wangjiang County Government is also supported by He Zuoxiu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He published articles opposing construction of nuclear power plants in the inland areas of the country, mentioning that problems such as construction of Pengze nuclear power plant will be blocked by drought and nuclear power plants in inland areas will pollute rivers.

Pan said this reflects the fact that people are still concerned about the safety of nuclear power plants.

“From the safety and nuclear safety standards, there is no difference between inland and coastal nuclear power plants. The site of Pengze nuclear power project is good, and in principle its safety is ensured,” Pan said.

According to Pan, China’s provisions on preventing and protecting against environmental radiation in nuclear-powered factories impose detailed requirements on site selection and safety standards of nuclear-powered factories. Pengze nuclear power project is located along the Yangtze River, which has plenty of water and is highly capable of diluting and diffusing pollutants.

At present, China has approved a total of 43 nuclear power plants, with a planned capacity of 200 million kw. These plants are located in 16 provinces, including eight inland provinces such as Jiangxi and Anhui.

It is unknown whether opposition from Wangjiang can successfully stop construction of the Pengze project, but according to information from the environmental protection authority, since there are still big disputes on the safety of building nuclear power plants in inland areas, China will temporarily suspend approval of building nuclear power plants inland.

The voice of opposition against nuclear power has always existed in China. An organization named Ocean Protection Commune once organized a signature campaign from March 2006 to January 2008 opposing construction of nuclear power plants, and sent the signatures in written and electronic forms to the MEP and the State Oceanic Administration.

According to a media release from the Ocean Protection Commune, labeling nuclear power as “clean energy” is a total lie.

The commune thinks that there are risks of leaks during the transportation of nuclear fuels. It is also hard to ensure safety in disposal of nuclear waste.

If war breaks out, the enemy state will be able to cause serious nuclear radiation by targeting nuclear power plants, said the release.

The organization says these are problems faced by all nuclear power countries and as of now there is no safe solution.

China’s Nuclear Power Plants in Operation

Ling’ao Plant Phase I

Located in Shenzhen, Guangdong, Ling’ao Nuclear Power Plant Phase I is the second large-scale commercial nuclear power plant built in Guangdong. It has two 990-megawatt PWR generating units, which came into commercial operation in May 2002 and January 2003, respectively.

Ling’ao Plant Phase II

Ling’ao Nuclear Power Plant Phase II is part of China’s efforts to propel indigenous innovation as a majority of its technologies were domestically created. It has two 1,080-megawatt PWR generating units. The No.1 unit came into commercial operation in September 2010. The No. 2 unit came into commercial operation in August 2011.

Dayawan Plant

Located in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, Dayawan Nuclear Power Plant is the country’s first large-scale commercial nuclear power plant that introduced foreign capital, equipment and technology. Its two 984-megawatt PWR generating units came into commercial operation in February and May 1994, respectively.

Tianwan Plant

Located in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant introduced nuclear power technologies from Russia. Its two 1,060-megawatt pressurized water reactor (PWR) generating units were put into commercial operation in May 2007 and August 2007, respectively.

Qinshan Plant Phase I

Located in Haiyan, Zhejiang Province, Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant Phase I is the first 300-megawatt PWR nuclear power plant independently designed, constructed, operated and managed by China. The plant came into commercial operation in April 1994.

Qinshan Plant Phase II

Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant Phase II is also a PWR plant. Its first two 650-megawatt generating units came into commercial operation in April 2002 and May 2004, respectively.

Its third generating unit, also with an installed capacity of 650-megawatt, came into commercial operation in October 2010.

Qinshan Plant Phase III

Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant Phase III adopts nuclear power technologies from Canada and is the first commercial heavy water nuclear reactor project. Its two 728-megawatt generating units came into commercial operation in December 2002 and July 2003, respectively.

By Lan Xinzhen