A file photo shows a concrete and steel dome of the Hualong-1 reactor being placed to seal off a reactor building at the Fuqing nuclear plant. Photo: China News Service
A file photo shows a concrete and steel dome of the Hualong-1 reactor being placed to seal off a reactor building at the Fuqing nuclear plant. Photo: China News Service

A humongous concrete containment dome has been placed on a Hualong-1 reactor at a nuclear plant operated by the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) in the southeastern province of Fujian.

The dome with steel lining, weighing 342 tons and measuring 46.8 meters in diameter and 1.8 meters in thickness, can withstand the impact of “a head-on crash of a falling passenger airliner,” according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

The concrete shield marks the finishing touch on the Hualong, the nation’s indigenous third-generation reactor, at the Fuqing base with a total annual nameplate capacity of 55 billion kilowatt-hours, earmarked to quench the power thirst of China’s booming eastern provinces.

The Hualong-1 reactors are among the six units at Fuqing, of which four units are already in commercial operation.

A peek into the reactor building of the Hualong-1 before the installation of its containment dome. Photo: China Central TV screen grab
An aerial view of the Fuqing nuclear base. Photo: Xinhua
A close-up of a Hualong-1 reactor. Photo: Xinhua

The state-owned nuclear grid builder said in a statement that other than some final work including the assembly of ancillary systems, the Hualong-1 reactor was “all set” technologically to get online at any time, with a guaranteed service life of no less than 60 years.

The dome is the second of its kind using the Hualong-1 design. The first, also at the Fuqing base, was completed last May.

The Hualong-1 Generation III pressurized-water reactors were researched by the CNNC in collaboration with the Guangzhou-based China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), emulating three-loop designs from Orano, a French nuclear conglomerate.

The Chinese nuclear-safety watchdog issued a go-ahead in August 2014 to clear the deck for Hualong-1’s trial at Fuqing, merely three years after the CNNC started developing the new reactor to merge imported and domestic technologies.

Two more Hualong-1 reactors are being constructed at the Fangchenggang nuclear plant in southwestern China’s Guangxi Autonomous Region. Those units are expected to start up in 2019 and 2020.

CNNC and CGN have been actively pitching for sales of the Chinese reactors abroad.

Two such reactors have been planned for the Karachi Nuclear Power Complex in Pakistan and a build in Argentina is planned to start in 2020.

CNNC, CGN and Électricité de France have also proposed using a British version of the 1,000-megawatt Hualong-1 reactor at a prospective new nuclear power plant at Bradwell, England.

On January 19, 2017, the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation started its Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process, expected to be completed in 2021, in advance of possible deployment at the Bradwell nuclear power station.

The British nuclear-energy regulator said last November that the Chinese reactors would move to Stage 2 of the assessment – the formal process for approving a new reactor.

The Chinese companies have also provided a full report on security dimensions for the Hualong-1 reactor design destined for Bradwell.

But CNG refused to give a visiting team of British government inspectors the security details for a Hualong-1 reactor in Fangchenggang last year.

Jerzy Grynblat, a nuclear-risk expert at safety assurance consultancy Lloyd’s Register, was quoted as saying in a November report that Hualong-1’s design was “quite old-fashioned.”

“It surprised me a little,” he said. “I am not saying this makes it unsafe, certainly not, but what it does is make use of well-known technology. And this makes approvals more straightforward.… And the [GDA] process that they are starting now in the UK is crucial to [CNNC and CGN]. They will be able use this all over the world.”