BEIJING, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- The first nuclear plant in Northeast China has started operating.
The Hongyanhe nuclear power plant, 68 miles from the port of Dalian, is the first new nuclear power plant to come online in China since Japan's March 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.
The first unit at Hongyanhe began operating Sunday as part of the $7.96 billion first phase of the project, which will include four power-generation units. Construction started in 2007 and is expected to be completed by year-end 2015, state-run Xinhua news agency reports.
When complete, the four units will generate 30 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, accounting for 16 percent of the electricity consumed in 2012 in Liaoning province.
Construction of Phase Two of the project, which includes two power generation units to be built with an additional investment of $4 billion, started in May 2010. Completion is slated for year-end 2016.
When fully completed, the plant will generate 45 billion kilowatts of electricity.
As of mid-2012, China had 15 operating reactors and 30 reactors with more than 33 gigawatts of capacity under construction, equal to about half of the global nuclear power capacity being built, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The Chinese government plans to boost nuclear capacity to at least 70 gigawatts by 2020.
Last fall, China lifted a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power projects, imposed after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.
In its announcement the Chinese Cabinet said the government had conducted "comprehensive and stringent security and safety checks" on the country's existing nuclear power facilities following the Fukushima accident. "The results have proved that the safety of China's nuclear power is guaranteed."
Separately at that time Zhang Huazhu, chairman of the China Nuclear Energy Association had said China's nuclear power installed capacity will hit 42 gigawatts by 2015, accounting for 10 percent of the world's total.
"With their good performances and the carefully chosen locations of the sites, China's nuclear power plants have little chance of repeating what happened in Fukushima," Zhang said.
Still, Xu Yuming, deputy secretary of China's Nuclear Energy Association, was recently quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. as saying that "the greatest challenge" is to rebuild public confidence in nuclear power.
"But we also need to make the nuclear power a safer, more reliable technology," he said.
In the meantime, China still relies on coal for about 70 percent of its power needs.
"If we develop nuclear power, we can cut down the usage of coal," Xu said.