CGN Power’s latest project delay deals another blow to China’s nuclear energy ambition
China’s largest nuclear reactor and builder delays commissioning of the first unit to later this year
The latest commissioning delay at CGN Power’s nuclear project in Taishan, in Guangdong province – the third in two years – will lead to a further deferral of 5 billion yuan (US$770 million) in annual revenues and potentially more cost overruns, according to ratings agency Moody’s.
The delay is another setback for China’s ambitious development programme, which aims to raise its installed nuclear power capacity to 58 gigawatts by the end of 2020 from 34.73GW last year, and the world’s hopes for a successful launch of third-generation nuclear reactors.
They are touted by their designers to be safer and more efficient than second-generation ones, a key selling point after the global nuclear industry was dealt a blow by Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.
“The delays reflect our concerns over the high execution risk for CGN in rolling out its aggressive expansion target and its adoption of a new generation of nuclear technology,” Ada Li, senior analyst at Moody’s, wrote in a note on Tuesday.
“The delays also imply the deferral of cash flows from the two nuclear units and potential additional capital expenditure, which would further pressure CGN’s financial metrics.”
She estimated the two reactors to initially make 5 billion yuan in annual revenues, amounting to 7 per cent of the firm’s 2016 revenues, adding its repeated delays are “credit negative”.
CGN said on Friday the first two generating reactors of the plant in Taishan – 136 kilometres west of Hong Kong – has been delayed to 2018 and 2019, from the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2018 respectively.
“As no nuclear power generating unit with the EPR [Evolutionary Power Reactor] technology has been put into commercial operation across the world ... Taishan Nuclear has to conduct more experimental verifications in respect of design and equipment,” it added.
The firm in early 2015 cited a “comprehensive evaluation” of the construction plan and risks for its first delay. In the second delay early last year, it said it the needed to conduct “more experimental verifications in respect of its design and equipment”.
The project was originally expected to come on line in 2015.
Moody’s said the latest postponement will not affect its A3 issuer credit rating on CGN, which has already incorporated a six to 12-month delay.
Dennis Ip, head of Hong Kong and China utilities equities research at Daiwa Capital Markets, believes CGN will have difficulty meeting the revised target, saying in a note that he expects the first unit to start up in the first half of 2019.
Ip a year ago projected the Taishan plant’s investment cost to rise to between 22 and 23 yuan per watt from his previous forecast of 21 yuan. The company, meanwhile, had budgeted it at 14 yuan. Each unit has 1.75 billion watt of capacity.