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Despite Fukushima, China Embraces Nuclear Power

By John Daly | Sun, 28 October 2012 00:00 | 3

The 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami double disaster that destroyed Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s six reactor complex at Fukushima Daiichi was a startling reminder to the global community of the inherent risks associated with nuclear power plants (NPPs).

Eighteen months later however, for a number of reasons, proponents of nuclear energy have not only survived what many at the time believed to be a knockout blow, but a number of countries have cautiously announced plans to build NPPs, all of which of course will incorporate the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi debacle.

Advocates of NPPs rightly point out that, in a world increasingly concerned about greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions, nuclear power plants are essentially emissions-free.
Opponents counter that the nuclear power industry’s dolorous safety record, beginning with Three Mile Island through Chernobyl to Fukushima Daiichi indicates the folly of believing that a NPP to withstand all risks, from human error to Mother Nature, 100 percent of the time.

And then there remains the as yet unresolved problem of what to do with NPP waste.

But China, which in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe imposed a nationwide ban on the construction of new NPPs, has concluded that  the nation needs new nuclear power installations.

Why would Beijing take such a seemingly retrograde step, especially as nuclear power currently contributes only 1.8 percent of China’s electrical output? Coal still accounts for about 70 percent of China's energy consumption and about 80 percent of its electricity production.

Simple – the mandarins in Beijing note that, unlike erratic renewable power sources such as wind and solar, NPPs generate reliable, 24/7 electrical power. China is now the world's biggest energy consumer, and building new reactors is a key part of Beijing's plans to curb demand for fossil fuels. Furthermore, the decision has a strategic element – China’s hydrocarbon imports come from volatile regions of the world such as Iran and Sudan, and Beijing has a further concern that in the event of rising international tensions, the U.S. could assert it naval power to interfere with maritime energy shipments.

On 24 October China’s State Council approved plans on nuclear power safety and development that said construction of nuclear power plants would resume "steadily" and subsequently released a white paper on national energy policy.

China currently has 15 operating nuclear reactors that provide roughly 12.5 gigawatts of generating capacity, and another 26 reactors currently under construction that will add another 30 gigawatts to the national grid.

The document blandly noted, “China will invest more in nuclear power technological innovations, promote application of advanced technology, improve the equipment level, and attach great importance to personnel training.”

But there is a downside to this roseate picture. In December 2009, nearly two years before Fukushima, the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed concerns that China’s breakneck development of nuclear power might lead to shortages of trained personnel, putting newer NPPs at increased risk from human error.

Even China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration director Li Ganjie, hardly an alarmist, noted at the time, “At the current stage, if we are not fully aware of the sector’s over-rapid expansions, it will threaten construction quality and operation safety of nuclear power plants.”

The good news?

According China government sources, only a “small” number of NPPs will be launched by 2015.

The bad news is that all of them will be located at coastal sites.

Typhoon, anyone?

But not to worry – according to the white paper, all the new NPPs must “comply with the highest international safety standards.” The State Council said that all new NPPs will be constructed according to “third-generation safety standards.”

What is signally missing from Beijing’s pronouncements is any input from either the Chinese populace or the country’s nascent environment movement. It remains to be seen how the government’s embrace of nuclear power in the world’s most populous nation will be seen by country’s highly regimented populace.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

About the author

Contributor
John Daly
Company: U.S.-Central Asia Biofuels Ltd
Position: CEO

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  • Rod Adams on October 29 2012 said:
    Mr. Daly's obvious conflict of interest is that he would prefer for China to buy fuel from "U.S.-Central Asia Biofuels Ltd." than to build a sufficient quantity of nuclear power stations that it would be free of external fuel suppliers.

    Despite all of the fossil fuel ad supported Fukushima Frenzy, the fact remains that no one was injured by radiation released by the three plants that were slowly destroyed after their cooling systems were knocked out by one of the largest tsunami's in recorded history.

    It is an interesting intellectual exercise to think about what the death toll at Fukushima would have been if the site was the host to ANY other type of facility when it was washed over by the wave of salt water. Instead of massive devastation, there were only two workers who were in an unprotected area of the plant who were killed. None of the others - even the famed Fukushima Fifty - even got hurt.

    Nuclear energy is safe, reliable, and well proven. It also takes markets away from fossil fuel, something that few officially sanctioned "renewable" energy sources will ever be able to claim. Perhaps that is why "OilPrice.com" continues to provide a venue for erroneous opinion pieces by Mr. Daly.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    PS - I freely admit that I am a nuclear energy professional who also has conflicts of interest when it comes to energy source discussions. Facts, however, support my position better than Mr. Daly's position on the matter.
  • Gordon Steingart on October 29 2012 said:
    I don't see how the possibility of China's reactors being located at coastal sites really matters. The disaster on Japan's coast would never have happened if the back up generators were positioned high out of reach from flooding. It's a design flaw that will no doubt be incorporated into any coastal plans in the future.
    Nuclear power is a safe effective answer to the world's energy needs and the advancements in the technology ,(industry wide) will continue to astound non believers.
    Science fiction tells us the story of man travelling throughout the Galaxy in a mere 200 years . Uranium is the tool that begins it all and as we progress ,we will find better safer,stronger solutions as fuel,but the science will be similar.That's something we cannot abandon.
    After all , Jimmy Kirk and the Enterprise aren't travelling outer space by warp sail backed up by impulse gasoline engines.
    We need to continue the progress and in stead of finding out ways to retract back to fossil fuels ,find what's wrong with the nuclear cycle ,and fix it.
  • Mel Tisdale on October 30 2012 said:
    Oh, dear! Any chance of a balanced view on nuclear power generation? I find myself in full agreement with Rod Adams' comment on this issue.

    If it were not for the Green brigade, nuclear power generation would be much further advanced than it currently is and climate change would be much less of a problem for us. They have a lot to answer for.

    What Mr Daly should be concerned about is that China is known to be developing LFTR nuclear technology, which is very safe and can be used to consume a large quantity of the nuclear waste that current designs have produced. LFTR technology has many other advantages over current designs. Unless the West decides to play catch up (and the Greens play shut up), it will be faced with the prospect of having to purchase the technology from them.

    It is not as though wind turbines are the panacea that the Greens wet their knickers in excitement over, as Germany's recent problems recorded here on the 26th clearly show.

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