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Analysis / New Techniques ‘Undermining Common Argument’ That Nuclear Plants Take Too Long To Build

By David Dalton
3 October 2023

IAEA highlights recent completion of reactor projects in China, Russia and US

New Techniques ‘Undermining Common Argument’ That Nuclear Plants Take Too Long To Build
Analysis and feedback from Leningrad 2-1 helped shorten the schedule and testing of Leningrad 2-2 (pictured under construction) by 27 days. Courtesy Rosatom.

New industrial techniques are driving down construction times and undermining the common argument against nuclear power stations that they take too long to build, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

According to the agency, three recent large-scale nuclear projects took between six and 10 years to build with modular construction techniques, lessons learned from previous projects and early engagement with the regulator all crucial to progress.

The three projects were Fuqing-5 and -6 in China, Leningrad 2-2 in Russia and Vogtle-3 and -4 in the US. All five plants are advanced pressurised water reactors, but differ from previous generations of reactors by using passive or inherent safety systems, having an element of design standardisation and using elements of modular construction, making them faster and cheaper to build.

Modular technology was key to cutting construction times for Fuqing-5 and -6, which used China’s indigenous Hualong One, or HPR1000, technology.

According to Jia Yuqiang, chairman of the Fuqing power station, lifting the steel liner in sections, rather than as a single object, reduced construction times by about 70 days and made the installation of this section of the reactor safer and easier.

During the installation of the pressure valve, an often lengthy and difficult process, 3D measurement technology improved quality and put the project four days ahead of schedule.

Many of the time saving initiatives used at Fuqinq were responses to the experience of building other nuclear power plants. “The Hualong One project was built through independent innovation based on summarising China’s nuclear power construction experience,” Yuqiang said.

‘Open Top’ Technique Gives Leningrad ‘Head Start’

The building of Leningrad 2-2 was also informed by analysis and feedback from Leningrad 2-1, completed in 2018, and other reactors. Alexander Katsman, deputy director-general for new units commissioning at Russia’s state nuclear operator Rosenergoatom, said this knowledge helped shorten the schedule and testing of Unit 2 by 27 days.

At Unit 2, the construction team used an “open-top” technique which saw the installation of large reactor components through a temporary roof opening in the unfinished reactor building, giving the project a head start on its installation and welding phase. Parallel welding of all four loops of the coolant system further reduced timescales by 19 days.

Speaking of the construction of Vogtle-3 and 4, the US’s first new nuclear power plant project for several decades, Steve Kuczynski, chief executive officer of Southern Nuclear said one lesson his company had learnt as a plant owner and operator was that, to drive the schedule forward, the owner needs to be in control of the construction phase from the start. “Many projects don’t start that way, but they all end that way,” Kuczynski said.

He recommended early and frequent engagement with the regulator, stressed the importance of using contractors with a proven track record, and the alignment and proper sequencing of incentive and milestone payments.

According to the International Energy Agency, nuclear power capacity needs to at least double by 2050 to achieve global climate goals. Hitting that target will require refurbishing, preserving and prolonging existing capacity, adding new capacity to the grid and rapidly extending nuclear power’s contribution beyond electricity to hard to abate sectors such as industry and transportation.

File photo of construction of the Fuqing-5 Hualong One nuclear power plant in China. Courtesy CNNC.

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