BEIJING, April 28 (Reuters) - China started loading fuel this week at a Westinghouse-designed AP1000 nuclear reactor - the world's first - in Sanmen, eastern Zhejiang province, as the long-delayed project took a key step towards becoming operational.
Fuel was loaded in the evening of April 25 after the reactor met design and installation requirements, according to a statement posted on the website of China's State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) on Saturday. The unit is expected to start operations soon.
The AP1000 was originally expected to make its debut in Zhejiang in 2014, but it is more than three years behind schedule, dogged by safety concerns and design changes.
China aims to complete two long-delayed, foreign-designed third-generation reactor projects this year - the Westinghouse AP1000 in Zhejiang and the first unit of the Taishan European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) project designed by France's Areva in Guangdong.
Westinghouse, owned by Japan's Toshiba Corp and to be bought by a unit of Canada's Brookfield Asset Management Inc , is one of the world's leading suppliers of nuclear fuel and provides some form of service to 80 percent of the world's 450 commercial reactors.
Beijing aims to boost the country's total installed nuclear capacity to 58 gigawatts by the end of the decade from 35.8 gigawatts at the end of 2017. It also plans to have another 30 gigawatts under construction by the end of 2020.
China plans to start construction on six to eight nuclear reactors this year and increase its total nuclear generating capacity by as much as 6 gigawatts. (Reporting by Ryan Woo Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)