BEIJING (Reuters) - China could struggle to meet its 2020 nuclear energy targets with the industry still waiting on a cautious government to speed up the approval process, a senior industry executive said on Saturday.
But as it waits for domestic projects to go ahead, the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is now ready to start selling reactors overseas, said the firm’s chairman Sun Qin, speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the annual session of parliament.
China planned to raise its total installed nuclear capacity to 58 gigawatts (GW) by 2020, up from 20 GW now, but despite ending a freeze on new approvals late in 2013, the state has not yet given any new projects the full go-ahead following a nationwide safety probe in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima crisis.
“The country’s determination to develop the nuclear industry has not changed but the planning has slowed a little,” said Sun. “The target won’t change, but it will need hard work, especially these next two years.”
Sun said he hoped his firm would win approvals for six reactors this year, with new units at Fuqing in Fujian province and Sanmen in Zhejiang likely to start construction.
China is now in the process of building advanced “third-generation” reactors and would be in a better position to press ahead once those are completed, he said.
“My belief is that after the thirteenth five-year plan period (2016-2020) China will be able to accelerate the pace,” he said. “In the transition from second- to third-generation, we need to be a little more prudent.”
China aims to become a dominant force in the international nuclear market, and is developing its own-brand reactors, including the Hualong 1, with a view to selling them overseas.
Sun said CNNC would start building the first Hualong 1 this year, but he denied the firm would have to wait until it was completed before it could sell the model abroad.
“We have already done the preparation and we can sell them at any time,” he said. “The technology is mature.”
China is planning a sweeping restructuring of the nuclear sector in order to boost its competitiveness abroad.
The State Nuclear Power Technology Corp (SNPTC) is currently in the process of merging with top state utility China Power Investment (CPI), and industry sources said CNNC could also be combined with its main rival, China General Nuclear Power Corp (CGN).
“The merger of SNPTC and CPI is not hot air - the State Council has not yet formally approved it but the two sides intend to go through with it - but other mergers haven’t been put on the agenda yet,” said Sun.
He also said the firm was “near the front of the queue” to raise 16.25 billion yuan on the Shanghai Stock Exchange through a share sale of its primary subsidiary, expected later this year.
Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Jeremy Laurence