Beijing has announced that it will push harder for the development of nuclear power as part of efforts to wean the Chinese economy away from conventional fossil fuels.
China’s top political leaders have flagged plans to dramatically ramp up the country’s usage of nuclear energy in order to diminish its dependence upon coal-fired power plants and reduce related pollution levels.
At a recent meeting of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs, President Xi Jinping said China would make haste to develop nuclear power facilities in the country’s most densely populated and economically developed areas.
“By adopting top international standards and ensuring safety, China should lose no time in constructing nuclear power projects in eastern coastal regions,” said Xi.
The remarks following statements made by Premier Li Keqiang at a meeting of China’s National Energy Commission in April, where he announced that new nuclear power plants would be built on the eastern coast “at a proper time.”
The Ministry of Environmental Protection also recently issued environmental impact statements for two new nuclear power plants in China’s east – one in the southernmost province of Guangdong and the other in Shandong in the north.
As of the end of last year, China’s nuclear fleet consisted of a total of 17 plants, with a combined capacity of nearly 15,000 megawatts.
The contribution made by nuclear power to China’s energy generation remains relatively meagre, however, accounting for just 2.11 per cent at the end of 2013, as compared to 15 per cent for hydropower. Installed nuclear power capacity comprises just 1.19 per cent of total power generation capability.
According to Ye Qizhen from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the country should aim to make nuclear power comprise around a tenth of its total energy generation capability.
Liu Qiang, an energy expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the motivation for China’s drive toward nuclear energy is to reduce dependence on conventional fossil fuels, which are considered the chief culprit for the country’s worsening air pollution. He said the push is unlikely to meet with concerted opposition due to the economic and environmental benefits it presents.
“In reality, the development of nuclear power is all about substituting coal,” said Qiang.