Unit 1 of China’s Sanmen nuclear power plant in the Zhejiang province reached full power operation for the first time yesterday. It is the first AP1000 Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) plant in the world to achieve grid connection and power generation.

Hot testing of the facility – when conditions similar to those experienced during operation are simulated – was completed in June last year. Fuel assemblies were loaded into its core from 25 April this year, and first criticality was achieved on 21 June.

Nuclear-generated steam was used for the first time on 27 June to rotate the turbine at rated speed.

The unit is expected to enter commercial operation by the end of this year. Nuclear reactors in China are classed as in commercial operation when they have completed a demonstration test run of 168 hours of continuous operation at full power.

Construction of four AP1000 units in China was ordered in September 2007, with two at Sanmen in the eastern Zhejiang province and two more at Haiyang in the Shandong province. The projects were overseen by American manufacturing company Westinghouse and its partner the Shaw Group.

Though the first facility was originally due to be completed in 2014, safety concerns and changes to the design, as well as a slowdown in construction plans following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, delayed the process.

Construction of Sanmen 1 began in April 2009, while Sanmen 2 started in December 2009. Work on Haiyang 1 and 2 began in September 2009 and June 2010, respectively.

Hot tests at Sanmen 2 were completed in January. Fuel loading into the unit’s core is expected soon, and it is also due to begin operations by the end of this year.

Haiyang, also expected to begin by year-end, achieved first criticality on 8 August. Fuel loading began at Haiyang 2 on 8 August and the facility is expected to start up in 2019.

Four AP1000 reactors are also currently being built in the US at the Vogtle and Summer power plants, though construction of the two Summer units was halted last August.

China aims to increase its installed nuclear capacity to 58GW by the end of 2020, and has a further 30GW under construction.

Nuclear capacity was 35.8GW at the end of 2017, with almost 23GW under construction. While the government has not approved any new projects for over two years, plans to commission six to eight nuclear facilities in 2018 were announced in March.