China Still Committed to Nuclear Power

As a result of the nuclear meltdown in Japan, China had suspended its new nuclear projects. (Read about that here.) Despite this, Damien Ma believes China remains as committed to nuclear power as ever. From The Atlantic:

The recently ratified 12th FYP contains binding targets to have non-fossil fuels account for 11.4 percent of China’s primary energy mix and for a carbon intensity reduction of 17 percent by 2015. Those goals are likely to be reached only by meaningfully expanding nuclear power because renewables alone (including hydro) are unlikely to be sufficient in offsetting coal and meeting the plan’s objective. Nuclear capacity is expected to quadruple from the current 10.8GW to around 40GW by 2015. The State Council has reportedly already approved 34 plants totaling 36.9GW, with work on 25 of those projects (totaling 27.7GW) having already started. Even if the new regulatory review delays construction of the remaining nine projects on the drawing board, China’s nuclear power capacity would eventually still be just shy of 40GW.

The support for nuclear energy reflects the political strength of its champions in the Chinese government. Top energy officials, such as former National Energy Administration (NEA) head Zhang Guobao and current NEA chief Liu Tienan, have publicly stated in recent days that China needs to develop its nuclear industry, with safety as a prerequisite. Other officials from the environment ministry, which has a hand in managing the nuclear sector, have also argued that China needs nuclear power to ensure energy security amid growing demand. Indeed, energy security and clean development have been invoked as compelling arguments. The head of the China National Nuclear Corp., one of the country’s two nuclear giants, recently pointed to data indicating that China’s existing nuclear capacity reduced annual emissions (67 million tons less of CO2 and 250,000 tons less of SO2) compared to equivalent coal-fired capacity.

Even if China continues with its nuclear energy program, it needs to pay close attention to safety issues. As early as 2009, there were worries that China’s nuclear program was expanding too rapidly. From Reuters:

China will face safety issues and environmental hazards involving nuclear waste disposal if the nuclear power sector is expanded too fast, the country’s nuclear safety chief said on Monday.

China, the world’s second-largest user of fuel and electricity after the United States, plans to quadruple its nuclear power capacity in the next decade to about 40 gigawatts, fast-tracking from an embryonic stage in the last three decades when a total of less than 10 GW was built.

“At the current stage, if we are not fully aware of the sector’s over-rapid expansions, it will threaten construction quality and operation safety of nuclear power plants,” Li Ganjie, director of National Nuclear Safety Administration, told the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Energy.

March 23, 2011 5:19 PM
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