Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Visit from China

Sanmen plant The state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to these shores last week proved to be quite consequential in the nuclear sphere:

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China that paves the way for the establishment of a radiation detection training center in Qinhuangdao, China.

The NNSA linked this to its Megaports initiative, which aims to mitigate proliferation concerns by squelching any smuggling of nuclear materials – and that means detecting radiation at ports. Megaports is currently focussed on Shanghai, but you can see a long list of port cities at the link where it has installed detection equipment. Qinhuangdao, where the training center will be, is also a port city, facing the Yellow Sea.

But wait – there’s more:

The Center of Excellence, to be jointly financed [by the U.S. and China], will be a place where technical information can be shared, training courses can be offered, and collaborations can be promoted to “enhance nuclear security in China and throughout Asia,” the White House says. “It will also help meet the training needs for China’s expanding nuclear sector, and promote nuclear security best practices throughout the region.”

No mention of the IAEA, which would seem to have a role here, but it does no harm for China to pick up tips and tricks from the American industry – safety culture and plant security are big topics here. As China starts to expand its nuclear base – we count 24 plants under construction there – the American experience will only help it.

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But government leaders are not the only ones shaking hands. Westinghouse (and businesses across many different spheres) used Hu’s visit as a way to announce new deals and partnerships in the rising (risen?) economic powerhouse.

Westinghouse Electric Co., a unit of Toshiba Corp., signed a two-year extension of a cooperation agreement with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. on continued deployment of its third-generation AP1000 reactor.

China’s nuclear plants to date have been built mostly with French and Canadian technology, but Westinghouse’s AP1000 design and technology has proved a big hit.

“AP1000 will account for close to 60 percent of China’s future projects,” said Dave Dai, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Daiwa Securities Capital Markets Co. “AP1000 is also a key stepping stone for China’s goal to create a localized nuclear reactor manufacturing chain.”

That last part sounds like China’s going to do a cheap knock-off, but no. Westinghouse wants to set things up so China can do more of the work on building and supplying parts for the reactors without as much direct involvement with Westinghouse as it has now.

Westinghouse itself noted another deal that has not seen much pick-up in the news:

Westinghouse and China have also announced a series of other cooperative agreements, including a contract also announced today calling for Westinghouse to provide fuel fabrication equipment for the production of AP1000 fuel in Baotou, China. 

And “a nuclear-grade zirconium sponge facility in Jiangsu Province.”

All this sounds like Westinghouse is providing quite an economic boost – for China. I poked around a little bit and found this:

Westinghouse Electric Company has completed preparatory work on fuel for its AP1000 nuclear power plants and manufactured the first four fuel assemblies at the company's Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility (CFFF) in South Carolina.  This fuel will be used at Sanmen Unit 1, located in the Zhejiang Province of China.

So it appears the U.S. is also seeing some stimulative action from Westinghouse’s activities. Good.

Getting started on Sanmen.

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