AS the UK prepares to build a fleet of new nuclear power stations with Chinese capital and expertise, a former state nuclear expert warns: China itself is heading for nuclear catastrophe.
To explain why, we have to introduce the conception of “nuclear reactor lifetime”. It is calculated in "reactor-years". One reactor year means one reactor operating for one year. According to the design requirements, a great nuclear accident should only happen once every 20,000 reactor years, that is 1 in 50 years (considering that the current world’s nuclear fleet is made of 443 plants). The actual incidence is 32 times higher than the theory allows: The world's 443 nuclear power plants have been running for a total of 14,767 reactor-years, during which time there have been 23 accidents involving a reactor core melting. That’s one major accident every 642 reactor years.
China already has 15 nuclear power stations, and looks set to have 41 by 2015. These have been built using various different models, with technology imported from France, Russia, the US and Canada. Mostly, China’s existing nuclear power stations use second-generation technology.
China is projected to have 71 nuclear power stations by 2020. If we use, for example, a prudent figure of 4,922 reactor-years, then China will "most probably" suffer a major nuclear accident within the next 69 years.
However, accident likely depend also on plants’quality and managing experience. To reduce costs, Chinese designs often cut back on safety. China also has much less experience of this sector than Japan.
Qian Shaojun, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, has repeatedly said that nuclear safety relies on experience. China has a similar likelihood of natural disasters to Japan, but the quality of its nuclear staff lags behind. It’s not that Chinese nuclear power technicians fall short in design ability. But they have less design and management experience than their Japanese counterparts.
If we refer to the data from Japan’s experiences (Japan was still hit by a major accident after 1,442 reactor years), China will "most probably" suffer a nuclear disaster around 2050.
But if China sticks to plans to build another 30 third-generation power stations between 2015 and 2020 the risks rocket. No AP1000 reactors – one of the key third-generation designs - have yet been built anywhere in the world, meaning there are no reactor-years of experience. Only the figures of 267 reactor-years from Three Mile Island’s 267 reactor years and Chernobyl's 162 reactor-years can be used as reference.Even if we take the larger of those numbers, that brings the "most probable" period for a nuclear accident in China forward to between 2020 and 2030.
The scenario is a bit pessimistic, but when you have to do with nuclear power, you are not too carefull.
From The Ecologist
October 25th 2013