An American construction inspector in China

Thanks to the NRC’s agreement with China’s nuclear agency to exchange construction knowledge, I traveled there last summer to observe ongoing work on two Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear units. In July, I arrived in Shanghai, a sprawling, modern city full of skyscrapers and familiar places like Starbucks and Burger Kings.

I traveled southeast to the Sanmen nuclear power plant Units 1 & 2 on a high-speed train, a journey that took four hours.

The Sanmen site was built to support current construction as well as future operations. There are apartments, a convenience store, banks, restaurants, a police station, tourist center, offices, and an excellent hotel, where I stayed. It is also the site of a tidal bay where dozens of people worked in the mud digging for clams and snails twice daily during low tide. During the months of July and August, temperatures typically ranged from 97 to 104°F with 90 percent humidity.

The joint project with China will better equip NRC construction inspectors like me as we examine the quality of work done on reactors anticipated to be built in our country. The areas we will have to examine range from concrete quality to whether welding is done properly. In the U.S., we completed construction inspections in the 90s at one existing reactor that was refurbished, and are continuing inspections at another unfinished reactor. However, it has been decades since we’ve had to inspect the construction of an entirely new reactor in the United States. We currently have two inspectors at the Vogtle nuclear plant site in Georgia and one inspector at the Summer site in South Carolina where pre-construction activities are taking place. The Commission is expected to reach a decision soon on whether new advanced reactors can be built at those sites.

While in China, I was able to see emergency planning at work as more than 200,000 people were evacuated in advance of a typhoon. And, as a sidelight, the trip also offered a look at Chinese culture and cuisine. The menus are varied and the food delightful, though I did lose 20 pounds.

After a few weeks in Shanghai, I met Region II Administrator Victor McCree and Jimi Yerokun, deputy director of the Division of Construction Inspection in the NRC’s Atlanta office, for a meeting in the Eastern China Regional Office. We visited the Shanghai Electric Nuclear Power Equipment Co., manufacturer of nuclear reactor vessels, steam generators, pressurizers, and core makeup tanks where many of the components are fabricated. We also returned to the Sanmen site for a meeting with the China National Nuclear Corporation and a final tour before returning home in September.

The construction is far from complete, but so far we can say that the containment vessels of both units are being assembled, welded, heat treated and inspected in a manner meeting all the Westinghouse specifications. The trip allowed me to see China and learn about the culture, but most importantly, we are learning lessons that will be valuable when American utilities begin to build Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear plants here at home.

Alain Artayet
Senior Construction Inspector
Region II

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

7 thoughts on “An American construction inspector in China”

  1. Your style is really unique compared to other people I have read
    stuff from. Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity,
    Guess I will just bookmark this web site.

  2. I welcome the NRC’s efforts in preparing for a better nuclear energy future, and sincerely hope that the tragedy of Fukushima will not be repeated in China or anywhere, for that matter.
    But who really thinks there won’t be another disaster at some point in history? And why isn’t more being done to invest in alternative energy R&D? Even if the technology isn’t there yet, it’s worth improving our options in that respect, or else we’ll all be living on a darker planet, where energy is more than a commodity … it will become the next great tipping piont to launch untold conflicts.

  3. Very interesting topic about NRC’s agreement with China’s nuclear agency to exchange construction knowledge..!

  4. When can we expect some more recent pictures of the Sanmen project? A link off the Westinghouse Site was posting photos every month or two, but the most recent posting is for August. I know this isn’t the NRC’s business, but you may have picked up some info on public information activities.

  5. Did you ever stop and consider the fact that there is a whole group of senior experienced enginers and construction management personnel from nuclear construction of the 1980’s. The industry claims there is a lack of experienced personnel. Recruiters look at us as “dated” not experienced. When I was a kid I was always taught to listen to your elders. They have learned from their mistakes and they have the wisdom it takes to accommplish a task. It is a darn shame when old fossils get relegated to the scrap heap. How do you spell age discrimination, arrogance and ignorance?

  6. I have been following worker safety in power plants as well as complications that arise in nuclear power plants/environment surrounding them. Many pipes experience leaks, erosion, and ultimately pipe bursting. I realize most companies try keep their cost to a minimum, but this should not be the case when lives are at risk. I believe they should look into preventive methods rather than finding last minute solutions when a problem has arisen. Data and solutions exist which should be sought and implemented when risks are this high. Plant piping leaks occur from valve vibrations, erosion, and turbulence. Simple spot repairs are not sufficient the flow turbulence and noise vibrations need to be corrected. Flow needs to be uniform and non-disturbing. Moderator: Product promotion removed. Laws and mandates should be enforced in building these plants correctly and addressing problems in a timely manner with proper training. Accidents are predictable and preventable if sought.

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