China Nuclear Plans Could Help Stimulus Efforts

Amid plans to defrost China’s nuclear plans, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, has approved of a nuclear safety plan. China had initially suspended nuclear power efforts after Japan’s March 11 nuclear crisis. From Reuters:

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, approved a nuclear safety plan for 2011-2015 in a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday, state television said.

China also aims to enhance nuclear safety standards and lower the risks of nuclear radiation by 2020, the report said.

However, some individual power plants need to improve their ability to prevent damage from serious accidents such as earthquakes, flooding or tsunami, it said.

State media have said China will likely scale down its 2020 nuclear power generation capacity target to 60-70 gigawatts (GW) compared with earlier expectations of around 80 GW.

The plan stipulates that the new reactors would be put into place by 2013. After the Fukushima earthquake, Beijing announced that there would be an inspection of the reactors that were either in construction or active. AFP adds:

On Thursday, China’s cabinet approved a document on the 2020 nuclear safety strategy, a statement on the government’s website said.

“The Chinese plants in activity and in construction respond fundamentally to the last nuclear safety demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” the statement said.

The document does not mention restarting the construction of new plants but could open the door for new projects being approved.

Before Fukushima, China had targetted 86 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2020 compared to just 12GW today, to drive its rapidly expanding economy. Last year Chinese media had said this objective could be reduced.

According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s relaunch of their nuclear energy efforts could help stimulus efforts:

“The size of China’s nuclear program is too big to ignore as a tool to create jobs in a potential fiscal stimulus” if problems in the euro-zone worsen, said Guo Shou, a Barclays energy analyst, in an email.

China’s state-owned nuclear-equipment providers could see billions of dollars in revenue when the country resumes taking on new projects, just as China’s biggest nuclear companies are increasingly seeking business with governments across the developing world interested in building reactors. Analysts say Chinese companies have the advantage in producing some nuclear-reactor technology at large scale as they seek to become globally competitive and support jobs at home.

China has signaled that it is unlikely to unveil a stimulus package similar to the one it used after the 2008 financial crisis to spur growth. The stimulus efforts helped keep China’s economic growth humming but led to worries about overcapacity and bad debt on the books of the country’s banks. This time, analysts expect industry-specific government support policies, with nuclear and other energy infrastructure projects poised to be among those benefiting most. The government already has hastened the approval of major projects and unveiled targeted tax cuts and incentives for purchasing household appliances.

Energy demand is expected to continue rising sharply as growing numbers of middle-class Chinese demand everything from air conditioners to electric-powered vehicles. Some estimates say China’s electricity consumption could rise to 8,500 terawatt hours by 2020 from about 4,700 terawatt hours in 2011. In recent months, comments by officials and Chinese industry executives signaled China appeared to have little intention of dramatically moving away from its nuclear plans. Nuclear power is particularly appealing for Chinese authorities as Beijing looks to reduce a reliance on imported oil and polluting coal.

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