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Energy

Delayed but still a world first: new breed of nuclear reactor powers up in southern China

  • Taishan plant beats French and Finnish projects to completion more than a decade after it started
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 4:54am

The world’s first of a new breed of nuclear reactors has gone online in southern China after years of safety and design delays.

The third-generation European pressurised reactor (EPR) went into operation at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant 136km west of Hong Kong following extensive tests on Thursday.

The Taishan plant is a joint venture between China General Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France, and its start date has been pushed back repeatedly since construction began a decade ago.

A spokesman for Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture confirmed the plant had begun commercial operations, but said further details would not be released until paperwork had been completed with China Southern Power Grid.

A second EPR reactor is expected to come online at the plant next year.

The French EPR technology is notoriously difficult to build and similar projects in Finland and France have also been plagued by delays.

The company said in June that the reactor would go online in the third quarter, according to Reuters.

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Guo Limin, general manager of the joint venture, said the company had learned from the delays and would apply that knowledge to the construction of the second reactor.

“EPR has increased its safety standards and equipment grades,” Guo said. “Actually, some of the equipment we have used, although it is from the same factory, are not stereotypical parts. The development process for new equipment takes some time, and takes a repeated process.”

He said delays had also been caused by changes in design and resulting contract disputes.

Guo said the design was upgraded to prevent major disasters, including a direct hit from a plane and generator failures like those in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.

China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration raised concerns about safety at the Taishan plant in May after an inspection, and state-run news agency Xinhua reported in June that the plant had addressed those issues.

Zhao Jiyun, professor of nuclear science and engineering at City University of Hong Kong, said the Taishan reactors were sealed in a “double-wall crust”. The inner shell could resist internal hazards resulting from severe accidents such as earthquakes, while the outer layer, a reinforced concrete structure, was designed to withstand a plane crash, Zhao said.

“The European pressurised reactor technology is the third generation of nuclear reactors, and it’s safer than the second generation used by plants such as the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant in Shenzhen,” he said.

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The Taishan project was launched on November 26, 2007, and was initially expected to generate power as early as 2013.

It was the third project of its kind, with work already under way at the time on EPR plants in Finland and France.

France’s own Flamanville EPR project is still years behind target, as is Finland’s project in Olkiluoto. Last month Finland’s EPR plant pushed its completion date back from mid 2019 to early 2020, due to problems found during hot function testing, according to World Nuclear News, a London-based nuclear power research organisation.