Nuclear giants eye markets abroad

Updated 2018-01-25 13:54:00

Ambitions could be plagued by political factors: expert

China's nuclear giants said this week that overseas projects and assets are increasingly important and they will continue to stress overseas expansion under the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative - a massive infrastructure plan boosting connectivity between Europe and Asia.

However, an expert has warned that the companies may fail to achieve their goals for a number of reasons, including political factors.

State-owned China General Nuclear Power Group's (CGN) overseas assets and revenues now account for 16 percent and 20 percent of the total, and the company has entered markets in more than 20 countries and regions with an overseas workforce exceeding 3,000, the company said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Last year, assets grew 22.1 percent year-on-year to 635.2 billion yuan (.6 billion). Revenues and profits were up 29.3 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively, CGN said.

The company has 20 nuclear units in operation in the Chinese mainland with installed capacity reaching 21.47 million kilowatts and accounting for about 60 percent of the national total, CGN said. The company also has another eight nuclear units under construction. These units boast 10.27 million kilowatts of capacity.

The Hinkley Point C project in the UK, in cooperation with French energy company EDF, progressed smoothly in 2017, the company said.

The company's largest investment in Africa, the Husab uranium project in Namibia, achieved production of more than 1,000 tons in 2017, and the project is expected to reach its designed capacity this year, according to CGN.

"A diversified source of uranium, in addition to Kazakhstan, could help ensure stability in China's nuclear fuel supplies, as the country faces depleting uranium resources," He Zuoxiu, a theoretical physicist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

CGN's domestic rival China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) has said that the current decade is a window of opportunity for the Chinese nuclear industry, comparable to the era when China developed the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb and nuclear-powered submarines, according to a statement posted on its website Tuesday after an annual wrap-up meeting.

Stating that 2018 will be a key year to transform China from a big nuclear power into a strong nuclear power, CNNC said it will strive to promote civilian applications of the related technologies, boost low-carbon and clean energy development via nuclear power and speed up the process to go abroad and support the B&R initiative with its full industrial chain in the nuclear power sector.

The company said 2017 witnessed key progress in homegrown third-generation reactor technology, or Hualong One technology.

Wang Dezhong, an expert in nuclear technology, said Hualong One boasts sound technology, which rivals that of Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor and Areva's European Pressurized Reactor, "but global competition for such exports is subject to the influence of political factors."

Wang noted that some countries may not trust China enough to buy the technology from it.

The construction of China's first pilot nuclear power project using Hualong One technology was completed in May 2017, and Hualong One is already gaining influence in the global market.

The containment dome for the K2 project of Pakistan's Karachi nuclear power plant using Hualong One technology was successfully installed in October 2017.

In November 2017, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and CNNC signed a contract for the construction of the 'Chashma 5' reactor at the Chashma power plant in Pakistan.

In 2017, CNNC also signed deals with Argentina and Brazil.

"Overseas sales are a solid metric for the competitiveness of something so complex such as a nuclear plant, and the sales of such core and sensitive technology are also affected by political trust," He said.

However, after the Fukushima disaster of 2011 in Japan, Chinese nuclear giants' ambition to export their plants ran into difficulties, He warned.

"The global trend is that nuclear energy is retreating in most countries such as France, Japan and the U.S., with a few exceptions in underdeveloped countries keen on nuclear power," He said.

As of November 1, 2017, the number of nuclear power units in operation in the mainland reached 37, ranking third globally, according to data from the Chinese National Energy Administration. China also has 19 nuclear power units under construction and the combined installed capacity of nuclear power from both categories will be 57.5 million kilowatts.

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