China General Nuclear Power Group, a state-owned enterprise that runs and has built nine nuclear-power plants with a cluster of 28 reactors in Guangdong province and elsewhere across the nation, has vowed to press ahead with its investments and construction spree despite a recent blacklisting by the United States that cuts off transfers of technology.

CGN, along with the firms and research institutes under its umbrella, is the latest Chinese conglomerate to be added to an entity list and banned from procuring technology, parts or materials after probes by the US Commerce Department.

The probe concluded that the advanced US technology and components for civilian use transferred to the Shenzhen-based nuclear energy juggernaut had fallen into the clutches of the People’s Liberation Army.

The US investigation and blacklisting can be traced back to 2016 when the Department of Justice accused CGN of “decades-long theft” of US technology as well as “illegal diversion” of civil nuclear technology for military or other unauthorized use.

Some observers suspect the core technology in question, likely the design of Small Modular Reactors from the Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse Electric Company, could be instrumental to CGN’s partnership with shipbuilding SOEs to trial what is called “floating nuclear reactors” to drift in the South China Sea to light up reclaimed islands and power military installations there.

Rumors are also rife as to how China can leverage its experience and talent pool of civilian nuclear technology to design and construct its first shipborne reactor to propel the future super-carriers of the Chinese Navy.

CGN has denied all the accusations.

A model illustrating a floating nuclear power plant supplying electricity to drilling platforms. Photo: Weibo

The Shenzhen-based Securities Times quoted a CGN spokesperson as saying that after preliminary analysis, the impact of the blacklisting would be “limited,” as the group already had a number of overseas partners from France and Russia to share, co-design and co-develop technology and power plants.

Other than a line-up of reactors that are set to go live at home with a combined capacity of 6.35GW, CGN has also hooked up with Electricite de France for the landmark US$24 billion Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, England.

CGN stressed that the UK ultimately gave the go-ahead to its joint venture with the French electric utility giant for the massive nuclear plant to quench London’s thirst for power, as well as the British government’s grant of access to the nation’s grid system, and that was proof of the group’s integrity.

Also, two of CGN’s indigenous, third-generation Hualong-1 nuclear reactors are under construction in Pakistan, while the company is also bidding for projects in Argentina.

A close-up of a Hualong-1 reactor. Photo: Xinhua
A close-up of a Hualong-1 reactor, China’s indigenous reactor co-developed by CGN and State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. The reactor pictured is being built in Fujian province. Photo: Xinhua

Meanwhile, Beijing has also backed CGN’s claims in its first white paper on nuclear safety published on Tuesday, stressing that Chinese nuclear plant designers and operators no longer have to take cues from their peers in the US, as the nation will soon have more nuclear reactors operational and being built than those in the US.

Liu Hua, the director of China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration, said American suppliers could be the next to lose orders. He added that the Chinese authorities would not retaliate via probes against US firms similar to what CGN had faced, nor would the nuclear safety watchdog seek to short-circuit the normal vetting and approval process to favor projects using non-US technology.

He said the construction of the Sanmen Nuclear Plant in eastern Zhejiang province – by China State Nuclear Power Technology Corp using the AP1000 design from Westinghouse – was progressing well.