BEIJING (Reuters) - China's environment ministry has given the initial go-ahead for the construction of two new AP1000 nuclear reactors designed by U.S.-based Westinghouse in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, it said late on Thursday.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said the proposed new reactors at the Haiyang nuclear facility in the city of Yantai will cost a total of 31.4 billion yuan ($5.1 billion), invested by state-owned utility China Power Investment.
The ministry published the project's 395-page environmental impact assessment in full on its website (www.mep.gov.cn) and said it is open to further suggestions and opinions from the public until March 5.
China will be the first country to build Westinghouse's third-generation reactor model, with two units already in construction at Haiyang and another two being built at the Sanmen facility in Zhejiang province.
The first unit at Haiyang was originally due to go into full operation late this year, but an industry source said next year was now a more realistic timeframe.
China is planning to raise its total nuclear installed capacity to 58 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2020, up from 14.6 GW at the end of 2013. It currently has a total of 31 reactor units under construction with a total capacity of 33.85 GW, 8.6 GW of which is expected to go into operation in 2014.
The country's top energy official, Wu Xinxiong, told a national government meeting in January that China would "launch approvals of key nuclear projects" this year.
After a tsunami in northeast Japan left the Fukushima reactor complex close to meltdown in 2011, China conducted a nationwide safety check and promised to build only safer third-generation models like the AP1000 and the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) developed by France's Areva.
China is currently building two EPRs in southeastern Guangdong province.
China's own third-generation model, known as the CAP1400, is based on Westinghouse's AP1000 design and was given preliminary approval by the National Energy Administration last month.
Westinghouse, owned by Japan's Toshiba, has been working with Chinese partners like the State Nuclear Power Technology Company (SNPTC) to develop local supply chains and the collaboration will allow the two sides to make joint bids for nuclear projects overseas, the U.S. energy secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters in Beijing last October.
($1 = 6.1284 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Richard Pullin)