Reactor No. 1 at Qinshan is China's inaugural effort at designing a nuclear reactor—a pressurized-water reactor known as the CNP-300 and based on a design conceived by Westinghouse in the 1950s. The latest iteration of that design—the CNP-1000—incorporates more safety features.
China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) "spent 10 years developing our own technology and developed CNP-1000 technology with our own [intellectual property]," said Chen Hua, director general of the corporation's Department of Nuclear Power, via a translator during a visit last fall to the quasi-governmental company's headquarters in Beijing. "We are applying for approval to start construction with the CNP-1000 technology."
But it is increasingly clear that China's partnership with Westinghouse to build its most recent nuclear reactor design—the AP-1000—may provide the technology blueprint for the bulk of the country's future reactor fleet. Four such reactors are currently under construction in the country—now the only actual construction of such advanced nuclear power plants anywhere in the world. The first one will initiate fission in 2013 if all continues to go according to plan, and the remaining three will be online by 2016. "There are a whole bunch of Westinghouse plants in China right now of different vintages," notes Aris Candris, CEO of Westinghouse.
The AP-1000 is cheaper because it is designed to be built in a factory, indoors, where there is greater control over elements such as the weather or the workforce. The idea is also to reduce the total amount of concrete and steel needed to put up an AP-1000, which also shortens construction time—all cost savings. And it may be safer, boasting new features—such as a water tank above the reactor core and vents built into the surrounding building—that can cool a reactor without human intervention or electricity. "It took us hundreds of millions of dollars to prove that water flows down," explains Candris. Plus, "you can put three AP-1000s in an existing plant footprint."
But the Chinese are also intent on mastering the AP-1000 technology. "Through this cooperation, I believe our own technology can be enhanced," Hua said of the Westinghouse deal.
That enhancement can be rather direct. China has developed its own version of the design, dubbed the "CAP-1000"—with the help of the tens of thousands of pages of documents on the design Westinghouse handed over as part of the licensing agreement. "There is a technology transfer and localization agreements," says Westinghouse spokesman Vaughn Gilbert. That has also allowed the Chinese to shift more and more of the supply of components for future AP-1000 reactors to China itself—much as South Korea or France has done before by incorporating earlier Westinghouse designs.
That's a route the French company Areva Group—its reactors sprung from a Westinghouse blueprint decades ago—explicitly did not follow when licensing two reactors of its own design to be built in China at Taishan nuclear power plant in Guangdong Province. "They're not allowed to build domestically without our approval as well as for export," notes Jarret Adams, an Areva spokesman. "The two [evolutionary pressurized-water reactors] under construction in China are going extremely well. We're also hoping to build two more."