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China’s nuclear reactor building spree

Asia Times 2019-03-13 16:36:44

Chinese officials say the nation’s humming economy means that no fewer than eight, million-kilowatt class nuclear reactors must enter service each year to help keep the nation’s electricity supply in pace with demand, while not adding more pollutants to the already fragile environment.

China Nuclear Power Engineering Co., Ltd. General Manager Liu Wei told reporters that China will see its 2030 total power consumption reach 10.5 trillion kilowatts, of which the share of clean energy must be no less than 45%, according to the national imperative.

Beijing’s drive to phase out filthy coal-burning power generation heralds a nuclear bonanza, and Liu said China will need to launch eight, million-kilowatt nuclear power units annually over the next decade to bring the share of nuclear generation in the nation’s total energy mix to 10%, a level in line with the global average.

Qinshan Power Plant in the eastern Zhejiang province was China’s first nuclear power plant. Photo: Handout

China’s total nuclear power installation capacity will reach 58 gigawatts by 2020. It currently has 46 nuclear reactors in operation, all in its well-off coastal provinces, with more than 20 new reactors being built. Currently, the average construction period for each reactor is only 60 months.

The southern province of Guangdong alone has no fewer than 16 reactors in operation, making Guangdong, China’s largest provincial economy as measured by annual gross domestic product, home to one of the world’s largest clusters of nuclear reactors.

Some observers, nonetheless, are worried that hastened safety and rushed environmental assessments, trials of domestically-developed technologies – some of which are premature – as well as China’s obsessive state control of information in the event of an incident, all mean that danger could be lurking beneath the big domes of the nation’s rapidly expanding array of powerful reactors.