BEIJING Jan 15 (Reuters) - State-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) will put another five reactors into operation this year, increasing its total electricity capacity by over two-thirds from a year ago to 14 gigawatts, the company said on Wednesday.
CGN is one of two state-owned nuclear power conglomerates that are pressing ahead with an ambitious reactor-building programme that is part of China's efforts to diversify energy sources and ease its dependence on coal.
China's plans to increase its reliance on nuclear power have turned it into one of the few growth areas for the industry as countries like Germany and Italy phase out their nuclear plants in the wake of Japan's 2011 Fukushima disaster.
"Whether you look at the United States or France's nuclear development, no other country has ever put five nuclear units into operation in a single year, and there will certainly be a lot of challenges," Xia Linquan, vice-general manager of CGN's engineering unit, told a media briefing.
There are currently 17 reactor units in commercial operation in China, with a total capacity of 14.6 gigawatts.
CGN, based in the southern Guangdong province, has a total of eight fully operational units, and rival China National Nuclear Corporation controls the rest.
China aims to boost total nuclear capacity to 50 gigawatts by 2017 from 14.61 gigawatts at the end of 2013, according to a 2013 pollution action plan.
CGN began construction on another 4.5 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity last year, bringing its total fleet in operation and under construction to 17.4 gigawatts, its spokesman Hu Guangyao was quoted by the state news agency Xinhua as saying.
After the Fukushima crisis, China said it would use safer "third-generation" reactors, and would be the first country to build the AP1000, designed by Westinghouse, the nuclear unit of Japan's Toshiba Corp.
This week, the National Energy Administration this week approved preliminary designs for China's own third-generation nuclear reactor, known as the CAP1400.
Construction of the reactor, which is based on the Westinghouse model, will start in the eastern coastal province of Shandong this year.
China is also building two third-generation European Pressurised Reactors designed by France's Areva. (Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Miral Fahmy)