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China's first US-designed reactor, Sanmen-1, records first criticality

Beijing β€” Sanmen-1, in China's Zhejiang province, the world's first nucleargenerating unit of the Westinghouse AP1000 design, successfully reachedfirst criticality Thursday, project operator State Nuclear PowerTechnology Corporation said.

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The successful criticality is a milestone in the construction of the1,200-MW Sanmen-1, which is now a step closer to entering commercialoperation, SNPTC said in a statement. First criticality represents thestart of a self-sustaining fission reaction in the core of a reactor. Thestep will be followed closely by the production of power and connectionto the grid, reactor designer Westinghouse said in a separate statementThursday.

In September 2007, US-based Westinghouse announced that it had wonauthorization to construct four AP1000 units in China, including two atSanmen and two at Haiyang.

Sanmen-1 completed cold hydrostatic testing May 26, 2016.

Sanmen-1 and Haiyang-1 are the first AP1000 units to be built in theworld. China acquired the rights to build its own version of the AP1000when it agreed to purchase four units from Westinghouse for the Sanmenand Haiyang plants.

Two AP1000 reactors are under construction in the US, at Georgia Power'sVogtle plant in Waynesboro, Georgia. They have experienced delays andcost overruns as a result of first-of-a-kind design, licensing,procurement and construction issues.

The units are scheduled to be operating commercially in 2021 and 2022,respectively.

The delays and cost-overruns of the Vogtle nuclear plant expansion andthe now-canceled effort to build two similar units at South CarolinaElectric & Gas's Summer station resulted in the bankruptcy reorganizationfiling of Westinghouse in March 2017. The US Bankruptcy Court for theSouthern District of New York in March approved the company's exit frombankruptcy later this year under new owner Brookfield Business Partners,a real estate and industrial holding company.

Georgia Power officials have said they are benefitting from lessonslearned during the construction, testing and start-up of the Sanmen andHaiyang units.

"This milestone cements American technology as the most advanced reactordesign commercially available," Daniel Lipman, vice president of supplierand international programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in astatement.

The start-up dates for Sanmen-1 and -2 had been postponed several timesin the past years due to delays caused by design changes and problemswith components, including reactor coolant pumps shipped from the US.

SNPTC said Thursday that Chinese regulators gave permission for the startof fuel loading at Haiyang-1, the second AP1000 in China to be built.

The country has more than 30 GW of nuclear capacity under constructionand plans to have 58 GW of installed capacity operational by 2020 as itseeks to increase carbon-free power generation and fight pollution.

The construction of reactors from suppliers from France, Russia and theUS are part of China's plan to build only nuclear units with advanceddesigns following the 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accident in Japan.Russian-designed units have been operating in China since 2007, and a1,600-MW reactor designed by French utility EDF's Framatome businessrecorded first criticality at the Taishan site in China earlier thismonth. --William Freebairn, william.freebairn@spglobal.com

--Hua Wen, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Kevin Saville, newsdesk@spglobal.com