CHENGDU, China, April 13 (Reuters) - China could decide to stop approving “second-generation” nuclear reactors as it reassesses its long-term plans for the sector, an official with one of the country’s biggest nuclear firms said on Wednesday.
“It is probable that China will stop approving new second-generation units, and it will be difficult to build (reactors) on a large scale until third-generation technology is fully mature,” said Li Xiaoxue, general manager of new project development at the state-owned China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp.
China has promised to “adjust and improve” its plans for the nuclear sector after an earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan left the aging second-generation Fukushima reactor complex on the brink of catastrophe.
Even before the Japan crisis, the approval of dozens of “enhanced” second-generation reactors along China’s eastern coast had already caused disquiet among nuclear experts, with the State Council Research Office urging the government earlier this year to focus on safer third-generation technologies.
China is already building six third-generation units, including four AP1000 reactors designed by Westinghouse and two European Pressurised Reactors designed by France’s Areva CEPFi.PA.
The country eventually aims to build its own brand of third-generation nuclear reactors after agreeing to a substantial technology transfer agreement with Westinghouse, owned by Toshiba , in 2007.
But China has already given the go-ahead to dozens of second-generation plants, and these will not be affected by any future ban.
Li told a conference that the “psychological impact” of the Fukushima nuclear accident was far bigger than the crisis itself, and the government was likely to respond by slowing down construction, especially in China’s interior.
Xin Feng, director of general affairs and planning at the China National Nuclear Corp, said his company was doing its utmost to allay concerns about the safety of nuclear power and had already pledged to become more transparent.
“Our public relations work is still not good enough -- we want ordinary people to understand nuclear power,” he said.
Xin told Reuters that it was too early to tell whether the company’s long-term plans for the sector would be affected by China’s decision to halt new project approvals pending a nationwide inspection of existing plants and construction sites.
“Our targets are set according to the state targets so we have to see what the government decides,” he said.
“Clearly the suspension will affect us -- we have a lot of projects that are waiting for approval. I personally think that we will have to wait until the end of the year before we hear (when the suspension will end).” (Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Ken Wills)