Westinghouse Electric Co. expects to put fuel into its first nuclear plant in China this year as it moves closer to start up and vies for a share of a market that may see $1 trillion in spending to boost production through 2050.
Westinghouse, the Pennsylvania-based unit of Japan’s Toshiba Corp., is preparing to fire up its AP1000 reactor in China after years of delays. It is one of four reactors using the company’s technology being constructed in China, split between two facilities.
“As with any new technology, we have worked through a number of first-of-a-kind issues, and those are largely behind us now,” Jeff Benjamin, senior vice president of new plants and major projects at Westinghouse, said in a phone interview on Friday. “Our commissioning and startup activities are progressing smoothly.”
Starting the reactors would be a shot in the arm for Westinghouse, which is competing with French, Russian and domestic producers to take advantage of China’s plan to more than double its atomic generation capacity by the end of the decade. The company’s first reactor in China is getting ready as President Xi Jinping shifts the world’s largest energy consumer away from more polluting fossil fuels.
“They’re looking at building a large number of nuclear reactors over the next couple of decades, and the AP1000 will play a key role in the expansion and development of nuclear energy in China,” Benjamin said.
Westinghouse’s first AP1000 reactor is due to start by the end of 2016 on China’s east coast, Gavin Liu, its president in Asia, said in November. It was originally scheduled to begin in 2013, but was delayed due to design problems, supply-chain bottlenecks and stricter safety measures after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan. Benjamin said he couldn’t comment on the schedule beyond loading the fuel. China National Nuclear Corp. told Reuters earlier this month that it expected the first unit to go into operation in June 2017.
The U.S. company is also “really interested” in markets in Central and Eastern Europe and the U.K., where nuclear power can help increase energy security, according to Benjamin, who also named Turkey as a country that has strong nuclear potential.
In Australia, Westinghouse believes nuclear power can play a role in the electricity mix in the future and estimates that one of its AP1000 nuclear plants could power a city roughly the size of Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, he said. The company is also interested in the possibility of long-term disposal of nuclear fuel in Australia, he said.
While Australia is home to the world’s largest uranium reserves, it has never had a nuclear power plant. Concerns over climate change have prompted debate in the country about whether to change that stand.
The storage and disposal of nuclear waste in South Australia would probably generate more than $5 billion Australian dollars ($3.8 billion) a year in revenue, according to the preliminary findings by a commission on nuclear fuel last month.
Such a facility would be commercially viable, with storage commencing in the late 2020s, the report found.
“Perhaps some of the geology in Australia might lend itself well to long-term disposal options if there’s sufficient interest in the country to play a role in that,” Benjamin said.