NUCLEAR POWER

China has the third largest nuclear power fleet in the world, behind only the United States and France. In 2018, seven of the nine nuclear power plants in the world that connected to the grid for the first time were in China. Roughly 20% of the nuclear power plants under construction in the world today are in China.[1]

In 2018, nuclear power provided roughly 4% of China’s electricity. The government has ambitious plans to expand China’s nuclear generating capacity.[2]

Background

China started building its first civilian nuclear reactor in 1985. The program grew slowly, with three reactors in operation by 1994. 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.[3]

The Fukushima accident on March 11, 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.[4]

From 2013 to 2018, China opened 29 nuclear power plants (far more than any other country in the world).[5]

In recent years at least two nuclear projects in China have been cancelled due to strong public opposition. These include a proposed uranium processing plant in Guangdong (canceled in 2013) and proposed nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in Jiangsu (canceled in 2016).[6]

As of July 2019, China had 45 operational nuclear power plants and 11 nuclear power plants under construction. All these plants are in coastal provinces. Several dozen additional nuclear power plants are being planned.[7]

Figure 10-1: History of nuclear power development in China

Policies

The Chinese government has set ambitious goals for expanding nuclear power. The 13th Five-Year Plan (2016–2020) calls for 58 GW of installed nuclear power capacity and an additional 30 GW under construction by 2020. (As of July 2019, China had roughly 46 GW of capacity installed nuclear power capacity and 12 GW under construction.)[9]

The Chinese government supports the development of nuclear power with a number of policy tools:

  • First, nuclear power plants often receive favorable prices and allocations of operating hours for electricity sales. (In the past, this was guaranteed to all nuclear power plants. Power market reforms are eroding this favorable treatment, but it still remains in some situations.)
  • Second, through policy banks such as China Development Bank, the government provides cheap debt capital to the large state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that dominate China’s nuclear power sector (including China National Nuclear Corporation, China General Nuclear Power Group and State Power Investment Corporation).
  • Third, in its role as shareholder, the government waives dividend payments from these SOEs.
  • Finally, central and provincial authorities help assemble land and arrange for transmission connections at new nuclear power plant sites.[10]

In building its nuclear power fleet, China has imported technology from the United States (AP1000), Canada (CANDU), Russia (VVER) and France (M310 and EPR). 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 currently stored on-site at nuclear power plants and in temporary storage facilities in China. The Chinese government intends to develop a closed fuel cycle with reprocessing capabilities for nuclear waste.[11]

Central players in the development of China’s nuclear policies include the State Council, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), National Energy Administration (NEA), National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) and Chinese Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA).[12]

One key question with respect to the future of nuclear power in China is the siting of nuclear power plants in inland provinces. Safety concerns and public opposition have stalled approvals at inland reactor sites ever since the Fukushima accident in 2011. Due to land constraints in coastal regions, expansion into inland provinces will be needed for significant growth in the Chinese nuclear power sector.

China National Nuclear Corporation has begun construction of the country’s first floating nuclear plant. The target completion date for the 60 MW unit is 2021.[13]

Impact on CO2 Emissions

The Chinese government identifies its nuclear power policies as part of its strategy to fight climate change.[14]

China’s nuclear power fleet helps reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases:

  • Coal plants and nuclear power plants play similar roles on electric grids, producing large amounts of dispatchable electricity 24-7.
  • A nuclear plant emits 95%-97% less CO2 per MWh on a lifecycle basis than a coal-fired power plant.[15]
  • That means a 1 GW nuclear power plant replacing coal-fired power avoids roughly 7 million tons of CO2 per year.[16]
  • 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 2018 would be roughly 320 million tons of CO2 per year—roughly 3% of China’s CO2 emissions and almost 1% of global CO2 emissions.

 


 

Figure 10-2: Nuclear Power Plants in China

References

[1] IAEA, Power Reactor Information System (World Statistics/Under Construction and Country Statistics tabs) (accessed July 13, 2019).

[2] National Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Bulletin of National Economic and Social Development 2019 (February 28, 2019) at table 3; NDRC, Energy Development Strategy Action Plan 2014–2020 (June 7, 2014) (Chinese); NDRC, Energy Development Strategy Action Plan 2014–2020 (June 7, 2014) (English).

[3] Antony Froggatt and Joy Tuffield, “Chinese Nuclear Power Development at Home and Abroad,” Asia-Pacific Focus (2011); IAEA, “China nuclear profile” (2001).

[4] Xinhua Net, “China Focus: China adopts nuclear safety law” (September 1, 2017); World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in China” (June 2018).

[5] IAEA, Power Reactor Information System (World Statistics/Under Construction and Country Statistics tabs) (accessed July 13, 2019).

[6] Li Jing, “Nuclear fuel plant on hold in eastern China after thousands protest,” South China Morning Post (August 10, 2016); Minnie Chan and He Huifeng, “Jiangmen uranium plant is scrapped after thousands take part in protests,” South China Morning Post (July 13, 2013).

[7] Lai Zhikai and He Ling, “China’s operational nuclear capacity ranks the third in the world,” Worker’s Daily (April 2, 2019); IAEA, Power Reactor Information System (Country Statistics tab) (accessed July 13, 2019); World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in China (updated July 2019) (accessed July 13, 2019).

[8] IAEA, Power Reactor Information System (Country Statistics tab) (accessed July 13, 2019); Kevin Tu, “Nuclear Power Development in China,” presentation at IFRI (July 10, 2019). Photo: M. Klingenböck/IAEA.

[9] See “Goals set for nuclear energy development in next five years,” China Daily (January 18, 2017); NDRC, Energy Development Strategy Action Plan 2014–2020 (June 7, 2014) (Chinese); NDRC, Energy Development Strategy Action Plan 2014–2020 (June 7, 2014) (English); IAEA, Power Reactor Information System (Country Statistics tab) (accessed July 13, 2019).

[10] See Mark Hibbs, The Future of Nuclear Power in China (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2018) at p.65.

[11] See generally World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in China; David Biello, “How Nuclear Power Can Stop Global Warming,” Scientific American (December 12, 2013).

[12] Mark Hibbs, The Future of Nuclear Power in China (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2018) at p.15.

[13] “Ocean-going nuclear plants for South China Sea,” Asia Times (March 21, 2019); Leng Shumei, “Construction begins on floating nuclear plant in Shandong,” Global Times (November 5, 2018); Viet Phuong Nguyen, “China's Planned Floating Nuclear Power Facilities in South China Sea,” Maritime Issues (November 21, 2018).

[14] See People’s Republic of China, Enhanced Actions on Climate Change: China’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (June 2015) at p.7; 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).

[15] NREL, “Life Cycle Assessment Harmonization” (January 2013) (5%); World Nuclear Association, “Greenhouse gas emissions avoided through use of nuclear energy” (accessed July 13, 2019) (approximately 3%).

[16] Based on coal plant emissions of 890 tons CO2/GWh (see Alvin Lin, “China’s New Plans Deepen Action on Climate Change,” NRDC Expert Blog [December 19, 2016]) and nuclear plant operating at 90% capacity. This may be an underestimate. See K. Feng et al., “The energy and water nexus in Chinese electricity production,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (2014) at p.23 (life cycle CO2 emissions of coal plants in China = 1230 tons/GWh).

[17] World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in China” (June 2018).

Leave Us Comments

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.