BEIJING, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- China has broken ground on a 3 billion-yuan (476 million-U.S. dollar) nuclear power project that will be the first in the world to put a reactor with fourth-generation features into commercial use, a Chinese energy company said Sunday.
It also marks China's latest move to speed up nuclear power development, which came to a halt after the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan in 2011.
Construction of the project at Shidao Bay in the coastal city of Rongcheng, east China's Shandong Province, began last month, Xinhua learned from Huaneng Shandong Shidao Bay Nuclear Power Co., Ltd. (HSNPC), the builder and operator of the plant.
With a designed capacity of 200 megawatts and "the characteristics of fourth-generation nuclear energy systems," the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor will start generating power by the end of 2017, the HSNPC said in a statement sent to Xinhua via email.
Independently developed by China's Tsinghua University, the reactor has the features of "inherent safety" and "passive nuclear safety" in line with the fourth-generation concept, meaning it can shut down safely in the event of an emergency without causing a reactor core meltdown or massive leakage of radioactive material, according to the statement.
The reactor can have an outlet temperature of 750 degrees Celsius, compared with 1,000 degrees Celsius that can be reached by the very-high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, an internationally-accepted fourth-generation reactor concept.
It can also raise electricity generation efficiency to around 40 percent from the current 30-percent level of second- and third-generation reactors, said the statement.
If it is commercially successful, the reactor's technology and equipment can be exported to other countries in the future, said an HSNPC public relations officer who declined to be named.
"That will be a great boost to China's nuclear industry, as a very high percentage of the equipment is produced domestically instead of being imported," the official told Xinhua by telephone.
The project is part of the HSNPC's broader plan to build a 6.6-gigawatt (GW) nuclear power plant that will require approximately 100 billion yuan in investment over 20 years. If completed, it would be China's largest nuclear power plant, said the official.
The rest of the plan includes four 1.25-GW AP1000 pressurized water reactors and a 1.4-GW CAP1400 pressurized water reactor.
The plan has not yet been approved by regulators.
China Huaneng Group, China Nuclear Engineering Group Co. and Tsinghua University are investors in the plant.
Originally scheduled to be launched in 2011, the construction of the project was put off after a tsunami hit nuclear facilities at Japan's Fukushima plant in March 2011, triggering a nuclear meltdown and public panic.
China suspended the approval of new nuclear plants and carried out a nationwide safety review after the crisis. The government cautiously resumed nuclear project approvals in October last year in a bid to meet growing energy demands in the world's second-largest economy.
Out of safety concerns, authorities vowed not to build any nuclear power plants in inland regions during the 2011-2015 period and demanded that the world's strictest safety requirements be applied to new plants.
After the Fukushima crisis, the Shidao Bay project went through on-site checks in accident prevention and emergency management and passed government safety inspections, the HSNPC statement said.
China had 15 nuclear power-generating units in operation with a total installed capacity of 12.54 GW, and another 26 units currently under construction will add another 29.24 GW, according to a government white paper on energy policy released in October 2012.
Nuclear power only accounts for 1.8 percent of China's total power output, far below the world average of 14 percent, and China plans to increase its installed nuclear power capacity to 40 GW by 2015, the paper said.