A model of the Hualong One nuclear reactor is displayed at the CNNC booth at an expo in Beijing on April 29, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Stringer
A model of the Hualong One nuclear reactor is displayed at the CNNC booth at an expo in Beijing on April 29, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

After successfully developing electrical power for the domestic market for 25 years, the Chinese nuclear industry’s flagship technology now is available abroad for the first time. Having signed nuclear deals for projects in the United Kingdom, Argentina, Pakistan and Iran, two major Chinese state-owned enterprises formed Hualong International to launch formally the Hualong One third-generation nuclear-reactor brand.

Negotiating exports with nearly 20 countries now, China is the eighth exporter of nuclear power plants and supplier of peaceful nuclear energy globally, and could be operating the highest number of nuclear projects by 2030.

Constructed outside China for the first time, two Hualong One nuclear reactors are being installed in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. Boasting the Chinese nuclear industry’s flagship technology, the construction model complements the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) vision for countries participating in the project. Perfecting the new design, China employed state-of-the-art technology for peaceful nuclear requirements badly needed for solving Pakistan’s dire energy crisis. The project is costing US$10 billion and will be completed within a decade. The innovative design employed in these plants is the company’s first 1,100-megawatt reactor overseas.

Developed by China National Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), Hualong Ones are indigenously designed third-generation reactors with the advanced technology and improvements of the second generation. There are 14 such reactors under construction, of which two are being installed at Karachi while the rest will be used in China.

Furnishing details, CNNC spokesman Pan Jianming stated that the second Karachi nuclear-power project was underway by now. The first was the K2 plant under construction since August last year, while the second is K3. Announcing its specifications at a forum in Fuqing (where the pilot project is based), he said: “Hualong One was developed based on very mature technologies, and the project is going very smoothly. It will help ease power shortages in the Karachi region after completion.” The project has also passed all pressure tests satisfactorily.

Safety is the first priority, and Karachi plants K2 and K3 have been planned for a height of 12 meters above sea level, keeping in mind that the greatest tsunami-alert level for Karachi is 2.5 meters. According to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, the projects will also be able to withstand an air crash, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Early this year, Pakistan’s request for the application of safeguards at the K-2 and K-3 nuclear power plants was approved by the board of directors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Capacity-wise, pressurized water reactors K2 and K3 have installed capacity of 1,100MW each.

Basically, Pakistan had an insufficient 1,040MW-capacity civil nuclear program, and additional nuclear power generation became imperative from a strategic point of view as well as for overcoming its energy crisis. Having an excellent IAEA-endorsed record of security in operating nuclear power plants since 1972, Pakistan went ahead with bolstering its civilian nuclear energy requirements, and the previous Chashma 1 and 2 projects were also built with Beijing’s assistance, out of six planned reactors. The third unit is also operational.

Nuclear energy is the safest and most reliable means of power generation for a developing country like Pakistan as it provides an enormous supply of electricity with a small amount of uranium. However, such projects are absolutely civil in nature, this aspect having been stated by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as well: “China has stated on many occasions that the cooperation between China and Pakistan in the civil nuclear energy sector is completely for peaceful purpose.”

Potentially a complicated process, installation of the containment dome of the demonstration nuclear project using the third-generation reactor was recently completed in Fujian province. The hemispherical dome weighing 340 tonnes and measuring 46.8 meters in diameter is put in place by a crane.

Explaining the procedure, Yu Peigen, the deputy general manager of CNNC, said: “The dome will be used for protection against nuclear accidents under extreme conditions. The installation marks the completion of construction work on the pilot project and the beginning of the assembly stage.”

Successful completion of this stage perfects and finalizes the development process of China’s third-generation reactor design, making it a reliable brand for use in Belt and Road countries.

Termed the “business card of China”, the innovative, advanced reactor is  called the Chinese nuclear power industry’s “flagship brand” as it identifies with the BRI mega-project on an international level. After the landmark achievement of successful installation of the containment dome, Premier Li Keqiang stressed the importance of quality and safety regarding “China’s first demonstration nuclear power project using Hualong One technology”. He stated that “absolute safety” must be guaranteed in nuclear-power construction, operation and management.

After successful completion of the Karachi projects, the next countries in line for construction of Hualong One reactors are Argentina and Britain.

Sabena Siddiqui

Foreign Affairs Journalist, Lawyer and geopolitical analyst. Writing about modern China, the Belt and Road Initiative, Middle East and South Asia. Bylines in Al-Monitor, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post and Asia Research Institute's Asia Dialogue Twitter @sabena_siddiqi

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