The disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011 has prompted world leaders to slow or even suspend reliance on that source of energy. That’s left an open field for China to become one of the world’s top producers of nuclear power.
As the traditional leaders in nuclear power have stagnated since the accident, in the same period China has added 10 new reactors capable of more than 10 gigawatts of generating capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
China now relies on nuclear power for a little more than 2 percent of its power generation. But its goal is to generate 15 percent of its power from cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels by 2020, and 20 percent by 2030. The alternatives include not only wind, solar and hydropower, but also nuclear generation.
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To help achieve this, “China plans to increase nuclear capacity to 58 gigawatts (GW) and to have 30 GW of capacity under construction by 2020,” the EIA says. Today its capacity is 23 gigawatts, and by the end of this year, China should surpass both Russia and South Korea in nuclear generating capacity.
That would make China number four among the world’s leading generators of nuclear power, behind the United States, Japan and France (although Japan’s reactors are turned off for now). And if Beijing completes construction of plants capable of an added 35 gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity, it will become the leading generator of nuclear power in 2020, when the plants are expected to go on-line. That would bump Japan back to third place.
Also by 2020, China plans to have finished building nuclear power plants providing a further 30 gigawatts of power, according to a report updated July 28 by the World Nuclear Association. In fact, China’s on a spree of sorts in building nuclear reactors. Of the 64 such facilities now under construction worldwide, the group says, 25 of them are in China.
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Today, every nuclear power plant in China is situated along its east coast and in the country’s southern regions, where demand for electricity is highest. But since the disaster at the coastal Fukushima plant, which was caused by a tsunami, Beijing is showing increased interest in building inland reactors.
In November 2014, China’s State Council published its “Energy Development Strategy Action Plan, 2014-2020,” under which it hopes to reduce the country’s reliance on coal, in part by taxing its use, and to increase the use of cleaner energy sources.
This plan calls for a “timely launch” of new nuclear plants on the country’s east coast, but also calls for research into the feasibility of building them inland as well to prevent an accident similar to what befell Fukushima.
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China and the United States, which together produce about 45 percent of the world’s total emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, have issued a joint promise to reduce greenhouse gas production over the next 15 years. And it appears that China may beat that deadline, not only because of changes in government policy, but also due to economic factors beyond its direct control.
Besides taxing and limiting coal use last year, the Chinese government is testing carbon-trading systems in five cities and two provinces. It’s expected to impose a nationwide carbon-trading system next year.
What wasn’t planned, but could help China meet its clean-energy goals, is that the country’s economic growth has been slowing lately, leading directly to lower demand for energy, whether generated by fossil fuels or cleaner alternatives.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com