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China to Increase Nuclear Power Capacity

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

China amazed the world in rapidly becoming the second largest global economy, second only to the United States, surpassing both Germany and Japan.

Even during the global economic meltdown, China experienced tremendous growth which it is maintaining this year and is expected to continue doing so in the years to come. However, to support this growth, China has an urgent need to upgrade its energy infrastructure as well as comply with carbon emission reduction requirements and energy conservation.

Nuclear power is a major choice in the country’s clean energy production efforts due to its known stability advantages and capacity potentials. In line with this, China is set to beef up its nuclear power capacity, pouring in billions of yuan into several nuclear power projects in a bid to attain its 2020 target of 86 gigawatts from this industry.

These efforts into expanding its nuclear power industry are also in line with the country’s commitments announced during the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. China promised to increase its non-fossil energy production to 15 percent, with 4 to 6 percent coming from nuclear power. The following provides a brief look into China’s nuclear power initiatives and how it will affect the region in the near future.

China’s Current Nuclear Power Capacity

China’s booming industries are powered by electricity generated from fossilfueled power plants (83 percent) and from hydropower (15 percent). This heavy reliance on fossil fueled power, 80 percent of which comes from coal plants, is causing excessive air pollution, making China a very large contributor of carbon emissions on a global scale.

These power plants are supported by 13 nuclear power reactors, all of which are operational and using second-generation nuclear technology. However, these plants account for only 2 percent of China’s total energy generation. Plans to increase this capacity by 25 more plants are underway, in order to eventually reach the country’s target of 5 percent nucleargenerated power.

However, at least 50 percent of the nuclear power equipment used in these plants comes from foreign sources. China needs to increase the localization rate for nuclear power equipment manufacturing if it plans to increase capacity to 86 gigawatts. Aside from that, new reactors should also be upgraded from its existing second-generation technology by adopting the latest third-generation AP1000 design from Westinghouse Electric Company.

Government Support and Overall Impact

The plan to increase China’s nuclear power capacity is part of its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011 to 2015) to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable growth. The government is pouring in a total investment of 500 billion yuan, equivalent to US$74.96 billion by the year 2015 and it will pour in even more investment until it reaches its goal by 2020.

The agency forecast that China would need to invest 250 billion US dollars in nuclear power by 2030 and would expand its share of global nuclear capacity to about 27 percent by 2050. Equipment manufacturers such as Dongfang Electric, China’s largest nuclear equipment manufacturer, are benefitting from this expansion program, with current orders already reaching 45 billion yuan, or approximately US$6.7 billion.

Future Trends in China’s Nuclear Power Sector

China’s drive to raise its nuclear power capacity is a vital element for the success of its five-year plans to reduce harmful emissions. China will push through with these projects despite the growing fears gripping the world as they witness Japan struggling to avert a nuclear disaster following the worst earthquake catastrophe to hit the country in decades.

Yet the stage has already been set for the implementation of China’s additional reactors, this time using some of the world’s most advanced systems that are designed to increase power capacity by up to ten-fold. China’s capacity plan will increase targets gradually, starting at 80 gigawatts by 2020, 200 gigawatts by 2030 and 400 gigawatts by 2050.

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