China Begins Operation of First CGN Hualong One Nuclear Reactor

The first Hualong One unit, a 1,180-MWe nuclear reactor designed by China General Nuclear (CGN), is now operational at the company’s Guangxi Fangchenggang Nuclear Power Station in western China’s Guangxi Autonomous Region.

Fangchenggang Nuclear Power Plant is 39% owned by Guangxi Investment Group and 61% by CGN. The plant plans to house six 1,000-MWe reactors, including two CPR-1000 units, which went online in 2016. Fangchenggang 3, which began commercial operation on March 25, and Fangchenggang 4 are part of the plant’s “second phase” to build out CGN’s first fleet of Hualong One reactors.

Hualong One, sometimes referred to as the HPR 1000, is considered China’s primary export reactor. The design derives from the ACP-1000, which was developed by the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) and CGN’s ACPR-1000. China’s National Energy Administration in 2011 ordered competitors CNNC and CGN to merge their two third-generation reactor designs into one standardized design. Both the ACP-1000 and ACPR-1000 are three-loop pressurized water reactor (PWR) designs based on the French M310.

The world’s first Hualong One reactor went online at China’s Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant in January 2021. China’s indigenous Generation III nuclear power technology, also known as HPR1000, has two variants, one designed by China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), and the other by China General Nuclear (CGN). CGN put online its first Hualong One reactor at the Fangchenggang plant in western China in March 2023. Courtesy: CNNC

CNNC and CGN each have their own supply chains for the Hualong One, which means their versions differ slightly. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the design incorporates “the latest safety systems following internationally accepted standards, including backup passive safety systems, [severe accident] mitigation systems, and enhanced seismic protection. Future reactors will be deployed by both companies separately, maintaining much of their supply chains, but each version will have slight differences concerning the safety systems,” the agency said.

The Generation III nuclear power technology generally has a 60-year design lift and a 177-reactor core design that requires refueling every 18 months. It also uses a combination of “active and passive” safety systems and a double-shell containment, which, according to the China Atomic Energy Authority, meets the latest international nuclear safety requirements.

A ‘Batch’ Reactor Variation

So far, four Hualong One reactors are already commercially operational. CNNC is currently operating two units featuring its version of the Hualong One at its Fuqing plant in Fujian province. Unit 5 began commercial operation in January 2021, and Unit 6 began operation in  March 2022. In May 2021, a Hualong One reactor also began commercial operation at the Karachi nuclear plant’s Unit 1 in Pakistan, and Unit 2 came online a year later in April 2022.

With Fangchenggang 3 commercially operational, CGN anticipates Fangchenggang 4 could come online in the first half of 2024. Two additional Hualong One reactors are planned at Fangchenggang. According to Chinese media, Argentina is considering a nuclear plant using Hualong One technology.

CGN earlier this week said construction of Fangchenggang 3 and 4 has entailed making “full use” of opportunities offered by “batch construction.” The company noted it cooperated with 5,400 enterprises in the upstream and downstream nuclear power industry supply chain, including developing new technologies, and new equipment, and completing tasks.

Pioneering a Domestic Nuclear Digital System

Lu Xianghui, a chief expert on the theoretical design of CGN nuclear reactors and chief engineer of CGN Nuclear Research Institute Co., during a press conference on March 25 highlighted technology advancements adopted by the “second-generation” of Hualong One nuclear power units. These advancements have improved safety and increased the power of the reactor core by about 9% compared with other domestic second-generation units, he said. The improvements make the Hualong One a world-class reactor, he suggested.

Fangchenggang 3, for example, pioneers FirmSys, China’s domestically developed nuclear digital instrumentation and control platform, CGN noted.

CGN’s first “Hualong One” nuclear power unit began operating on March 25, 2023, at Unit 3 of the Guangxi Fangchenggang Nuclear Power Plant in western China. Courtesy: CGN

Export Strategy

China is actively marketing Hualong One in Europe. CGN and French company EDF in February 2022 garnered a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) for the technology. The companies have partnered to propose twin Hualong One reactors at Bradwell Power Generation Co.’s existing Magnox power station in Essex. In November 2020, the design was also formally certified as compliant by the European Utility Requirements organization.

Experts note that China’s nuclear export ambitions arose from a fragmented strategy to expand its domestic nuclear power fleet with reactors from four countries: Canada, France, Russia, and the U.S. China, however, has since developed several nuclear technologies under its gradual indigenization approach. These include high-temperature gas-cooled, molten salt and fast neutron reactors, as well as floating plants and nuclear fusion.

According to the World Nuclear Association, Fangchenggang 3 is China’s 56th operating reactor, bringing its nuclear capacity to 54 GWe. Another 22 reactors—a combined 25 GWe—is under construction. The organization estimates 46 reactors (another 51 GWe) are in planning phases, and 156 reactors have been proposed. China is targeting 200 GW of nuclear capacity by 2035.

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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