“China will very likely become the largest nuclear power supplier in the next decade,” a Chinese expert says,
China’s carbon footprint has grown to an even more massive size, increasing by 4.7% last year alone over the previous year. The wanton burning of coal in the communist nation is worsening both global climate change and the pollution of the air, water and soil back home.
In its bid to wean itself off coal, China is turning to renewables and nuclear energy. Beijing’s plans are ambitious for both. China is a leader in solar power technology and is also investing heavily in nuclear energy.
According to some plans, Chinese firms could spend up to 1 trillion yuan ($145 billion) on 30 new nuclear plants, constructed both at home and abroad, by 2030. “Going with nuclear power has already become a state strategy, and nuclear exports will help optimize our export trade and free up domestic high-end manufacturing capacity,” says Wang Shoujun, a former chairman of the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation.
China currently has 41 operable reactors, with another 17 reactors under construction. The world’s most populous nation accounted for some 30% of reactors under construction worldwide, as of July 2018.
“If we consider that the US and France – the current global leaders in nuclear power – have a smaller fleet under construction, then we have reason to believe that China will very likely become the largest nuclear power supplier in the next decade,” says Zhao Dongchen, executive director of ICBC International Research Limited.
By 2030, a fifth of primary energy needs will be served by sources other than fossil fuels in the country. “There are even more ambitious plans: by 2020 coal capacity in China will be limited to 1,100 gigawatts, with nuclear capacity increasing to 58 gigawatts, which is a 70% increase from the current base,” the Chinese expert says.
“We can see that even after Fukushima, China’s nuclear stance has not really changed,” he adds. “It still has the ambition and determination to increase nuclear power as a share of its electricity mix. We can see that nuclear power in China, as a share of the total power mix, has increased over the last five-six years and is on the upturn. It now accounts for about 4% of the total electricity power generation in China’s power mix.”
For the time being coal remains the cheapest form of power generation, costing only about 0.36 Yen per kilowatt-hour in neighboring Japan, according to a recent study. Nuclear power comes second at 1.2 Yen per kwh, followed by renewables sources, which are considerable more expensive than both coal and nuclear. In China, local consumers care less about the source of energy than its costs, Zhao Dongchen says.
“I think that from this perspective there will be more drive in the commercial sector to invest in nuclear power, given that the ongoing power reforms have given end-users exposure to the source of their power,” he argues.
Location, climate and topography also play a part in influencing the most suitable methods of electricity generation in the vast country. “[In] the Chinese energy landscape, we have hydropower from the west, we have coal power from north, and we also have wind power from the north where the sea is, but in the east there is no power supply and there are no energy resources,” explains Zheng Mingguang, president of the Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research & Design Institute Co, Ltd.
“However, the most economically developed area is the east, and therefore it is a good place for nuclear power. Additionally, in the future the land will be limited and so nuclear boats [floating offshore nuclear power plants] could be the best solution for nuclear power generation,” he adds.