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China Nuclear Delivered

Chart Party: China Trends in Imported Nuclear Safety Equipment

The HAF604 certification is required for foreign firms to sell safety-grade equipment in China nuclear. Since it was first introduced in 2007, foreign companies have been required to pass through the complicated and arduous HAF604 application and review process before they can sign deals in China, or, in some cases, before they can even submit tenders.

One of the key requirements for HAF604 certification is that a foreign firm be able to secure proof of demand from two Chinese procuring parties. Also, the process for applying for HAF604 is so demanding of company time and resources that it's unlikely a foreign company would go through the hassle unless there is good reason to believe the market is receptive to their products or services. Thus, HAF604 certification trends YoY is a reasonable proxy for market demand/market opportunity for foreign firms in the Chinese nuclear space.

I pulled some data from Nicobar's HAF604 tracking spreadsheet to see if I could find some interesting trends for different products year-over-year. 2017 is excluded because we only have a partial year and I didn't want to throw off the data. Remember, each HAF604 certification is good for 5 years. A certification extension is counted as a new certificate (for example a company could be counted twice if it first obtained HAF604 in 2009 and re-certified in 2014)

For Pipes and Pipe Fittings, the data show pretty much what I expected when I started this exercise - the opportunities for foreign firms declining over time as Chinese firms achieve localization of key safety equipment. I added a red trend-line to make the YoY decline more apparent. As Chinese firms achieve higher levels of mastery for safety class piping, it will get harder and harder for foreign firms to secure their proof of demand, or see credible market opportunities that would lead to pursuing a HAF604.

The situation for HAF604 certifications of nuclear grade Castings and Forgings is similar to piping, although the trend-line is less pronounced. Notice the big grouping of companies that got certified in 2011 - these certificates all expired in 2016 but only 4 certificates were issued in 2016. This indicates that the majority of those companies certified in 2011 chose to abandon the Chinese market by 2016.

Here's where things start to get interesting. As the chart above indicates, nuclear grade Sensors have been a point of continuing strength for foreign firms in the Chinese market. Even with the total blackout of new HAF604 certs in 2016, the trend-line of HAF604 certs from 2008-2016 actually has a slightly positive slope. I have a couple theories for why this might be so:

  1. Unlike major piping systems, sensors are more prone to failure and wearing out, needing replacement during scheduled outages and overhauls, creating more market opportunities across the plant's entire lifespan
  2. Sensor technology has improved since the first sensors were installed in Chinese reactors 25 years ago and there are more opportunities for companies with advanced, cutting edge technology
  3. The technology demands for manufacturing nuclear-grade sensors are relatively higher than those demanded for piping and Chinese manufacturers have been slower to master the technology

Here's the last one, and it's the component that consistently sticks out most among safety-class equipment HAF604s: Valves and Valve Components (excluding actuators). As the data show, foreign companies have actually been more successful YoY in securing HAF604 certifications for valves, with a positively sloping trend-line from 2008-2016. There are actually MORE valve companies holding HAF604 certificates today than in the past, even as Chinese companies continue to earn HAF601 for valves as well. I surmise this phenomenon is due to a combination of the following reasons:

  1. Like sensors, valves also are more prone to wear and tear and can be swapped out during outages and overhauls
  2. Like sensors, valve technology has continued to improve since the first Chinese plants were constructed and opportunities continue to exist for companies with advanced, cutting edge tech
  3. Like sensors, the technology requirements for safety class valves have been slower for Chinese plants to master, especially for Class 1
  4. Valve types can be highly plant-specific, so it's possible that the market has become available to more foreign players as China continues to diversity its reactor types

Conclusions and other Thoughts:

  1. Don't assume Chinese localization = less opportunities for foreign firms, at least not just yet. The market forces that shape China nuclear are more subtle and complex than that. Even as Chinese firms secure HAF601 certification for key safety class components, foreign firms may continue to receive HAF604s and win work for competitive products. Some companies like SPIC even cultivate multiple vendors for the same products, just so they can avoid monopolies and stimulate R&D.
  2. Some tech is more resistant to Chinese localization efforts than others. Valves and sensors seem to have more sticking power for foreign firms than piping, forgings and castings, for instance. Of course I realize that there are many types of valves and many types of sensors, and I have collapsed them all into one type of component for the purposes of this high-level analysis. A more granular analysis would be necessary to tease out the exact types of sensors or valves than foreign firms are still finding a market for in China.
  3. This data doesn't capture one important group of foreign manufacturers: those who established manufacturing operations in China either via joint venture or via a WFOE factory. Their joint venture would be a Chinese company and would need HAF601 certification, not HAF604. It would be interesting to examine what kind of success foreign firms have had by abandoning their HAF604 efforts and going after HAF601 as a local firm instead.  

China Nuclear 2018 - Breaking the Silence

Last week on Nicobar News + Views, David examined the drought of activity China nuclear has experienced so far in 2017 and brought us to the conclusion: mid-2018 will be a key time to look out for new FCDs and plant approvals in China nuclear. Indeed, the industry has been waiting with bated breath as the AP1000 at Sanmen Unit 1 has now entered the fuel loading phase and appears to be in the home stretch for grid connection in early 2018. China's prospects for further deployment this year have unfortunately been boxed in by its sensible decision to:

  1. Elect to ONLY use 3rd generation NPP designs going forward, and
  2. To rigorously adhere to the  [Experimental -> Demonstration -> Commercial-> NOAK] process rule for deploying new technology.

Once the proof-of-concept milestone for the AP1000 technology has been demonstrated and put in the rear view mirror, what specific shoes can we expect to drop in 2018? Put another way: we've said before that the floodgates are going to open in 2018, but which plant sites are going to be part of that flood? Answering this question is the focus of the piece today, but to get there, we're first going to eliminate the FCDs that we WON'T be seeing in 2018:

INLAND PLANTS

Before the 2011 Fukushima accident prompted an industry-wide review of the seismic evaluations for the inland plants, China's inland nuclear power plants were just over the horizon. Notably, the inland site at Xianning/Dafan in Hubei Province had even received major equipment onsite before the project was thrown into bureaucratic limbo and the equipment was re-allocated to Xudapu. Since the construction moratorium was lifted in 2012,  there have been intermittent and frequently contradictory rumblings and rebuttals from official spokespeople as to the fate of the inland plants. The root of this apparent confusion comes from an apparent disconnect between regional governments eager to engage in site selection, pre-feasibility studies, and other such preparations in order to foster development within their local jurisdictions, while the national regulatory higher-ups seem much less certain on the inland plants.

The most recent back-and-forth salvo on this topic came earlier this year in mid-February when Wang Yiren, Vice Director of State Administration of Science Tech & Industry for National Defense & Vice Chairman of the Chinese Atomic Energy Association stated publicly “If things go well, construction of inland nuclear power stations will begin during the 13th 5-Year-Plan period” (i.e. 2016-2020). Just a month later in an interview, the assistant section chief for nuclear energy within the Chinese National Energy Commission said the industry "has no timetable" to construct inland plants during the 13th 5YP period. What we conclude from these vague statements is that even if we see inland plants by 2020, they wouldn't be any time over the next two years. Thus, we have ruled out FCDs at inland plants in 2018 (i.e. Xianning/Dafan, Pengze and Taohuajiang)

NOAK HPRs

The next batch of new builds we can rule out for the time being are all of the planned Hualong 1 reactors – now being referred to as HPR1000s. While these plants are eventually going to be rolled out at an impressive clip – approximately 4-6 HPRs starting construction per year – we won’t be seeing that rate until 2020 at the earliest according to state media. And keeping in line with the tech deployment process I mentioned above, the HPR design is still within its proof of concept stage with the first commercial plants at Fangchenggang Unit 3/4 and Fuqing Unit 5/6. Since construction started on these first of a kind plants in 2015, commercial operation and the next batch of NOAK HPR approvals will have to wait until 2020 at a minimum.

So if we’re to assume that we won’t reasonably see any inland plants or NOAK HPRs during 2018 – what form will all the activity David was describing come in? Here are a few.

CAP1400

First, the low hanging fruit here will be the demonstration CAP1400 plants up at Shandong Province's Shidaowan site. This indigenous Chinese design was spun off from the Westinghouse AP1000 tech transfer and is stuck in the same situation as other planned Gen-III plants - it’s based on a technology lineage which hasn't ticked that crucial box for demonstrated proof of concept. Major equipment was delivered onsite as of many months ago, the site is totally prepped to begin pouring concrete, and an army of construction workers is undoubtedly prepped to roll up their sleeves as soon as the word is given. SNPTC has been whipping manufacturers in shape, pitting them against each other to produce competitive products simultaneously to see who is more capable, and conversations are underway on an international scale to export the CAP1400 to new markets – but no construction is happening. Officially, the publicized FCD for the CAP1400 Unit 1 is October 30, 2017, with the second unit to follow one year later on October 30, 2018. Originally, Sanmen Unit 1 was expected to start commercial operation in Q3 of this year, so an October FCD for the CAP1400 was originally a reasonable plan. With Sanmen now likely delayed out until early 2018, SPIC will be in a hard position: either abandon the well-publicized October FCD or abandon the proof-of-concept flowchart that China nuclear generally abides by. Our personal prediction is that we'll see CAP1400 FCD quietly pushed to 2018, but no matter whether it happens at the end of this year or the beginning of the next, the CAP1400 is going to start getting built soon.

 Other AP1000s

The people pulling strings at the top of the Chinese nuclear value chain seemed to have learned a thing or two in kindergarten - case in point they made sure that no sooner did SNPTC get its hands on shiny new toys from Westinghouse, the AP1000 technology from Westinghouse was it turned around and licensed to CGN and CNNC. Following SNPTC's successful deployment of the technology at Sanmen and Haiyang, we expect to see all three Chinese majors deploying more AP1000s at their respective sites (note that CNNC owns Sanmen, but the technical work is all being performed by SNPTC - CNNC is almost delegated to an investor role).

CGN's first AP1000s will be deployed at the Lufeng site in Guangdong and we expect to see FCD for those before the end of 2018. CNNC's first AP1000s are likely to be at Xudapu in northeastern Liaoning Province and Haixing in Hebei Province.  All of these sites are planned to eventually house 4-6 reactors, but we would expect no more than 2 to enter construction simultaneously.

Other potential approved sites for AP1000s include Sanmen Unit 3/4 and Haiyang Unit 3/4 but we get the impression from Chinese contacts that breaking ground on new sites is of higher priority.  Fangchenggang Units 5/6 are also currently slated on the books to be AP1000s and official sources estimate FCD in 2018,  but several factors make us doubt that we’ll actually see any concrete poured on those in 2018:

  • CGN is the designated site owner, and they’ll be preoccupied with their first AP1000 at Lufeng; 
  • Units 3-4 are still in early build schedule, and there’s no precedence in China for one company having 4 early stage units at the same site underway at once
  • Recently without much fanfare or notice, China has been quietly setting precedent for changing reactors that were previously planned as AP1000s to be HPR1000s instead. Zhangzhou Units 1-4 were reported as future AP1000s at the beginning of 2016 but are now indicated officially as HPR1000s, and the story is similar at Taipingling Units 1-2. Given that Units 3-4 at Fangchenggang are already housing FOAK HPR1000s, we' wouldn't be terribly surprised at all if Fangchenggang 5-6 also ended up getting switched over to HPR1000s as well, which means no FCD until 2020 or beyond.

Overall, we see a pool of 8-12 units that could get their construction license for FCD in 2018 – but to review the major assumptions we’ve made here:

  • China won’t get around to inland plant builds for at least the next 2-3 years. We think that’s a pretty safe bet, but does anyone have any convincing opposing evidence?
  • We think that there’s no real chance that China will defy its own rule here and start breaking ground on more HPRs before the first one is delivering to the grid – but what do you think?

To conclude on the idea of 2018 FCDs – 8-12 units in one year is a grueling pace but not unprecedented in China's history of new nuclear builds. After all China previously broke ground on 9 new units in 2009 and 10 in 2010. We’ll be excited to see things move at a quicker pace than they have this previous year, but it's not going to be a record breaking year. However, while we’ve been talking FCDs this whole time, maybe you picked up on from a few points that I’ve mentioned that it’s a bit of a red herring for our overseas readers who want to be participating in these projects - there's no need to be concerned about FCDs being pushed to 2019, 2020, or even beyond.  Procurement timelines are by no means slowing down – we’re seeing international RFPs and tenders going live for all of the plants we've mentioned, both those with and without near-term construction dates. Keep your ear pointed to the ground, and let us know if there's somewhere we could help.

 

China Nuclear 2017: It's Quiet....Too Quiet...

All things considered, 2017 has been an exceedingly quiet year for the Chinse nuclear industry.  It's already August and we've seen just 1 new reactor entering commercial operation this year:  Yangjiang Unit 4 back in March.  Once Fuqing 4 enters commercial operation as scheduled in Aug/Sept, our grand total for the year will be 2.  In contrast, 7 new reactors came online last year and 5 the year before.

Not only that, but we've seen ZERO new projects pour concrete so far this year. Again in contrast, China nuclear saw 2 FCDs (first concrete dates) in 2016 and 6 FCDs in 2015.

Heading even farther upstream, the total number of new reactors approved by China's State Council this year was also a whopping zero.  

So what's going on? Why has 2017 been such a quiet year for new plant completion, FCDs and approvals alike?

Actually the first half of the answer is pretty straightforward. To construct a CPR-1000 PWR reactor (the workhorse of the current Chinese fleet, comprising 21/36 commercial reactors in China today), Chinese industry needs 5-6 years. Subtract 6 from 2017 and you get 2011 - the year of the Fukushima accident in Japan. Unsurprisingly, there were no FCDs for China in 2011, as a moratorium on new builds was imposed and safety standards were reviewed. Indeed, the only surprising point here is that the China regulator was even able to approve pouring concrete on those 2 new reactors in 2012 just one year later (Yangjiang 4 and Fuqing 4, which will finish this year in a blazingly speedy 5 years).

The second half of the answer is actually pretty straightforward too. China simply can't start constructing any more plants until it finishes the ones its got under construction at the moment.  There are 20 plants under construction at the moment in China.  Here are the numbers:

CPR-1000 --------------------------------------------------------------- 7 units
AP-1000 ----------------------------------------------------------------- 4 units
HPR-1000 (aka Hualong 1) ------------------------------------------- 4 units
EPR ----------------------------------------------------------------------- 2 units
VVER 428M------------------------------------------------------------- 2 units
HTGR --------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 unit

We'll exclude the HTGR for now, as it's a Gen-IV demo plant.

Those 7 CPR-1000s are grandfathered into China's build plan.  The CPR-1000 is a Gen-II design and China has committed to a Gen-III future, so no more CPR-1000s will be built after the last one finishes (Tianwan 6 in 2021).

By all appearances, the VVERs are one-offs for China. Once those last two Russian reactors are completed, it's unlikely we'll see any more of this tech tree in China at Tianwan or anywhere else.

That leaves us with the EPRs, AP-1000s and HPR-1000s, all of which are demonstration projects.   Simply put, these are all Gen III options for China's nuclear build future, but the demo projects aren't finished yet, so we aren't going to see any new FCDs until we get a demonstration plant up.  With EPRs and AP-1000s both suffering from cost overruns and delays around the world, and with both WEC and Areva making their way through their well-documented financial woes, it's not hard to imagine how Chinese policymakers and industry leaders feel, having tied the fate of their highly publicized nuclear objectives to unproven Western technologies.  We witnessed the initiation of China's unsurprising efforts to free itself of overreliance on the Western firms for Gen-III technology back in 2015 when China approved construction of its homegrown Gen-III design, the HPR-1000, which has already begun supplanting former AP-1000 builds in China.

The good news that the end of this long pause is near.  The bad news is that 2017 isn't going to be the year when it all comes to fruition.  At this point in time, all of our sources are pointing to Q1 2018 as the earliest startup date for the AP-1000s and EPRs, if nothing else goes wrong.

This indicates that mid-2018 will be the key time to look out for new FCDs and approvals in China nuclear.  Indeed, we expect a veritable flood of activity to be unleashed by the confirmation that the world's first Gen-III demonstration reactors have been successfully connected to the grid in China (both in China and around the world).  2017 has been slow, for sure, but it's the calm before the storm...the tightening of a bowstring. Very soon, that storm is going to break, that arrow is going to fly, and China nuclear news is going to become a whole lot more interesting.

In our next blog post, we'll be furthering this analysis through a logical follow-up question: Which Chinese reactors are going to pour concrete in 2018? Will they be HPR-1000s, AP-1000s, or EPRs? What about inland plants? Most importantly, what will all this mean for industry stakeholders?  

Has the slowdown in new Chinese nuclear builds affected your business? What are you seeing out there? Let me know in the comments.

 

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