A Double First in China for Advanced Nuclear Reactors

Safer reactors designed in the U.S. and Europe make their power grid debuts in China

Call it the world’s slowest photo finish. After several decades of engineering, construction flaws and delays, and cost overruns — a troubled birth that cost their developers dearly — the most advanced commercial reactor designs from Europe and the United States just delivered their first megawatt-hours of electricity within one day of each other. But their benefits — including safety advances such as the AP1000’s passive cooling and the EPR’s airplane crash-proof shell — may offer too little, too late to secure future projects.

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Both of the design debuts happened in China late last month. On Thursday, June 29 a 1,400-MW EPR designed in France and Germany synced up to the grid at the Taishan nuclear power plant. The next day the U.S.-designed 1,117-MW AP1000 delivered first power at China’s Sanmen plant. 

Both projects are coming online years behind schedule, and they are still at least several months away from full commercial operation. But the real problem for the AP1000 and the EPR are the designs’ unfinished Western debuts.

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