China Starts Building SMR-Based Floating Nuclear Plant

China has officially begun construction of its first offshore nuclear power plant, a demonstration project that will employ the domestically developed ACPR50S small modular reactor (SMR).

China General Nuclear Power Corp. (CGN) on November 4 told reporters at a press conference that the project (Figure 6) is a “top priority” that will further the country’s “strong marine power strategy.” Among its myriad uses will be powering oilfield exploration in the Bohai Sea and deep-water oil and gas development in the South China Sea. “An offshore small modular reactor adopting a decentralized energy system could be a good solution for providing a steady supply of energy on islands, in coastal or far offshore areas,” CGN said.

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6. Floating an idea. China General Nuclear Power Corp. has kicked off work on China’s first floating nuclear power plant. The demonstration plant will employ an ACPR50S small modular reactor, which is designed for marine environments. Courtesy: CGN

CGN did not address it, but the project has reportedly prompted some alarm amongst countries that border the South China Sea, which spans 1.4 million square miles. A third of the world’s shipping passes through its waters. China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia all claim sovereignty over some land features in the sea, and concerns about security and resources have driven much tension among stakeholder countries.

The company instead played up technical achievements. The 60-MWe (200-MWt) ACPR50S reactor design, which is part of China’s ACPR series of SMRs, got the National Development and Reform Commission’s green light in late 2015 to advance as part of a program to develop experimental reactors outlined in the 13th Five Year Plan. CGN said that preliminary design of the ACPR50S is underway. It expects construction of the demonstration project will be completed by 2020.

In lieu of pouring concrete as would be conventional for a land-based reactor, CGN kicked off construction of the offshore reactor by signing an agreement with Dongfang Electric Corp. for the supply of a reactor pressure vessel. Of all the equipment necessary to construct the unit—including the floating platform—the reactor pressure vessel takes the longest to manufacture, explained CGN Research Institute deputy-chief engineer and small modular reactor lead designer Rui Min at the press conference.

In related news, CGN also revealed it has signed a framework agreement with Shanghai Electric Nuclear Power Group to accelerate “smart power construction,” which entails applying digital tools throughout the nuclear plant process, from design to construction. CGN noted that the concept of “Internet Plus nuclear power” will allow China’s nuclear power sector to adapt to what it said is “a new round of industrial revolution.” Several subsidiaries, including China Nuclear Power Engineering Co., China Nuclear Power Operations Co., and the CGN Research Institute, are already working to digitally integrate their resources. CGN has also already established a collaborative sub-platform, successfully created a Hualong-1 in 3-D design, and begun using virtual reality to improve user experience, work efficiency, and safety.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)