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Nuclear Power Dying A Slow Death

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Why Is China Losing Interest In Nuclear Power?

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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Will China Be Able To Meet Its Lofty Nuclear Power Goals?

Chinese representatives had a lot to say at this month’s 2019 Spring International Summit at China's Nuclear Energy Sustainability Forum in Beijing. Yu Jianfeng, chairman of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), said that as the global society ushers in a new era of clean energy development, China is leading the charge. Over the last three years, according to Yu, China’s clean energy sector has seen the fastest rate of growth in the world thanks to its booming hydro, wind, solar and nuclear sectors.

After a late entrance to the nuclear power game in the 1990s, China has risen through the ranks to represent the third biggest nuclear fleet in the world with 45.9 gigawatts of installed nuclear power production capacity at the end of 2018, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Projections released by the Chinese government show that China could take the United States’ place as the number one nuclear energy producer in the world within the next ten years. As World Politics Review reports, “Chinese companies have been eyeing export opportunities from Argentina to Saudi Arabia and from the United Kingdom to Romania. Nuclear energy officials in Japan, South Korea, France and the United States fear that China’s state-owned nuclear companies are taking advantage of the same kind of government policies and commercial practices—from protectionism and subsidies to espionage and intellectual property theft—that they believe have helped China to dominate other industrial sectors.”

This is not the full story, however, as the Chinese nuclear sector may have grand plans, but may not actually have the means to fully realize them. In fact, according to a forecast released by the China Electricity Council just this week, China will not be able to meet its lofty nuclear power generation goal for next year. The nation’s target for total nuclear capacity by 2020 is 58 gigawatts (GW), but China will likely fall short at a projected 53 GW, according to numbers cited by China Electricity Council vice chairman Wei Shaofeng at the selfsame China Nuclear Energy Sustainable Development Forum where Chinese nuclear potential was being touted by many other industry insiders. Related: Economists: Higher Oil Prices Here To Stay

According to reporting by Reuters, China currently has 11 new nuclear power units currently under construction, and World Nuclear News says that China “accounts for about one-fifth of nuclear capacity under construction globally - 10.8 GWe of the 56.3 GWe total“. That being said, China’s nuclear energy sector is currently being bogged down by a major slowdown in its reactor building program in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in nearby Japan, where the cleanup attempt of the nuclear site is ongoing. Not a single new reactor building project has been approved in the past three years in China, thanks to a discouraging combination of what Reuters says are “spiraling costs, delays for key projects and safety concerns about new technologies.”

China is not giving up, however, on its nuclear energy dreams. Just last month, two new nuclear reactor projects in southeast China got the ball rolling for a resurgence of new nuclear energy growth by environmental impact assessments to regulators. World Nuclear News also reports that China’s nuclear industry is ready for a renaissance: “This hiatus is expected to end soon now that the first EPR and AP1000 units are in operation at Taishan and Yangjiang, respectively. In parallel, construction of the first indigenous Haulong One units, Fuqing 5 and 6, is progressing with installation of large components, such as the steam turbine, at an advanced stage.”

In his address at this month’s nuclear energy summit, Wei also offered some hopeful figures alongside the news that his nation will not reach their nuclear energy target for next year. If China increases its rate of nuclear construction to build between six and eight news reactors per year from 2021 to 2030, he said, Chinese nuclear power generation capacity would reach 137 GW by 2030 and potentially even reach 200 GW by 2035.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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