In 2017, nuclear power provided roughly 3.8% of China’s electricity. The government has
ambitious plans to expand China’s nuclear generating capacity. Roughly one-third of the
nuclear power plants under construction in the world today are in China.1
China started building its first civilian nuclear reactor in 1985. The program grew slowly,
with three reactors in operation by 2001. The Chinese government launched an ambitious
expansion of its nuclear power program in the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001–2005), which called
for the construction of eight more nuclear plants. That trend continued in the 11th Five-Year
Plan (2006–2010), which called for further expansion of the nuclear construction program and
a focus on Generation III technologies.2
The Fukushima accident on March 3, 2011, brought the rapid expansion of China’s nuclear
program to a halt. The State Council ordered an immediate safety review at plants under
construction and suspended approvals for new plants, pending a major safety review. In
October 2012, a new safety plan was approved, and approvals resumed. In September 2017,
the National People’s Congress approved an updated nuclear safety plan.3
As of June 2018, China had 39 operational nuclear power plants. Most of these plants are
located along China’s east coast.4
The Chinese government is committed to a significant expansion of its nuclear power industry.
NDRC’s targets call for increasing nuclear power capacity from roughly 38 GW today to 58
GW by 2020 and 150 GW by 2030. Roughly 20 nuclear power plants are under construction
with many more planned, including in inland provinces.5
In building its nuclear power fleet, China has imported technology from the United States,
Canada, Russia, France and South Korea. The Chinese government aims to localize these
technologies and become self-sufficient in reactor design and construction. Chinese policy
now mandates using Generation III or more advanced technologies. Nuclear waste is being
stored on-site at plants and in temporary storage facilities. The Chinese government intends
to develop a closed fuel cycle with reprocessing capabilities for nuclear waste.6
Large state-owned enterprises dominate China’s nuclear power sector. The major players are
China National Nuclear Corporation, China General Nuclear Power Group and China Power
Investment Corporation. NDRC, NEA and the National Nuclear Safety Administration play
central roles in policy development and regulatory oversight.
The Chinese government identifies its nuclear power policies as part of its strategy to fight
climate change.7 These nuclear power policies have had a significant impact in reducing
emissions of heat-trapping gases:
● Carbon dioxide emissions from a nuclear plant are less than 0.5% of those from a
coal-fired power plant producing the same amount of electricity, calculated on a life
cycle basis. (Coal plants and nuclear power plants play similar roles on electric grids,
producing baseload electricity in high volume.)8
● That means that a 1 GW nuclear power plant built instead of a coal-fired power plant
avoids at least 5–7 million tons of CO2 per year, depending on plant efficiency and
● If each nuclear plant in China displaces a coal-fired power plant that might have been
built in its place, then avoided emissions from China’s nuclear fleet in 2020 would be
in the range of 300–400 million tons of CO2 per year—3–4% of China’s CO2 emissions
and roughly 1% of global CO2 emissions.
1. National Bureau of Statistics of China, “Statistical Communiqué of the People’s Republic of China on the 2017
National Economic and Social Development” (February 28, 2018), at table 3, http://www.stats.gov.cn/english/
pressrelease/201802/t20180228_1585666.html (3.8% in 2017); IAEA, “Power Reactor Information Systems”
(accessed June 9, 2018), https://www.iaea.org/pris/CountryStatistics/CountryDetails.aspx?current=CN (57
nuclear power plants under construction in the world, 18 of which are in China).
2. Antony Froggatt and Joy Tufeld, “Chinese Nuclear Power Development at Home and Abroad,” Asia-Pacific
Focus (2011), http://www.japanfocus.org/-Joy-Tufeld/3826/article.html; “IAEA, “China nuclear profile” (2001),
3. Xinhua Net, “China Focus: China adopts nuclear safety law” (September 1, 2017), http://www.xinhuanet.com/
english/2017-09/01/c_136575377.htm; World Nuclear Association “Nuclear Power in China,” (June 2018), http://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/china-nuclear-power.aspx.
4. World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in China” (June 2018).
5. See NDRC, “Energy Development Strategy Action Plan 2014-2020,” http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/wpcontent/uploads/2018/04/1312.pdf and https://policy.asiapacificenergy.org/node/138; “Nuclear Power in China” (June 2018) (about 20 nuclear power plants under construction in China); IAEA, “Power Reactor Information Systems” (accessed June 9, 2018), https://www.iaea.org/pris/CountryStatistics/CountryDetails.aspx?current=CN (38.1 GW of gross electrical capacity in China’s grid-connected nuclear power plants).
6. See generally World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in China,” (June 2018); David Biello, “How Nuclear Power Can Stop Global Warming,” Scientific American (December 12, 2013), http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-nuclear-power-can-stop-global-warming/.
7. See People’s Republic of China, Enhanced Action on Climate Change: China’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (June 2015) at p.7, http://www4.unfccc.int/ndcregistry/PublishedDocuments/China%20First/
China%27s%20First%20NDC%20Submission.pdf; Tai Zhong, “核电:不该被误解的清洁能源” [Nuclear power should not be misunderstood], Economic Daily (December 24, 2014), http://www.nea.gov.cn/2014-12/24/c_133876460.htm.
8. NREL, “Life Cycle Assessment Harmonization” (January 2013), https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/57187.pdf. See also David Kroodsma, “Interactive Map: All the World’s Nuclear Reactors,” Climate Central (April 26, 2011),
http://www.climatecentral.org/blogs/interactive-map-all-the-worlds-nuclear-reactors; World Nuclear Association,“Greenhouse gas emissions avoided through use of nuclear energy” (accessed June 9, 2018), http://www.worldnuclear.org/nuclear-basics/greenhouse-gas-emissions-avoided.aspx.
9. Estimate based on plants operating at 80% capacity.
10. World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in China” (June 2018).