In a document on energy strategy issued last June, China’s State Council said construction of new nuclear power plants in coastal areas in East China will start at a proper time, and the feasibility of building plants in inland ares will be studied.
Few actions were taken until this year. In February, the State Council approved the construction of two units of the Hongyanhe Nuclear Power Plant in Northeast China’s Liaoning Province, making it the first project that was approved after 2012. This was followed by the construction of unit five of the Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant in Fujian Province, which started in May.
More projects are likely to follow. In an energy forum held this May, Liu Baohua, who’s in charge of nuclear power at the National Energy Administration of China, said that as many as eight nuclear power reactors could be launched this year, China Nuclear Industry News reported. Liu also said that it is within China’s capacity to build six to eight more nuclear reactors each year.
By 2020, China expects that installed nuclear power capacity will reach 58 gigawatts, and those under construction will reach 30 gigawatts. This is nearly three times the current capacity, which is 20.29 gigawatts, or 1.5 percent of China’s total electricity capacity.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear power generated by China’s 23 nuclear reactors contributed to just 2.4 percent of China’s total electricity production in 2014.
“China resumed its new nuclear energy activities rather soon this time, after just a four-year pause. This is mainly prompted by the advance of nuclear technology and safety standards, and more importantly, voices from within China to change its energy structure toward a cleaner one,” Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, told the Global Times.
Not only is China fast in its pace to build more nuclear reactors, it’s also bold in using the most advanced nuclear technologies, some of which have never been used commercially before. This courted doubts over whether these technologies are reliable enough, since there are few precedents to draw experience from.
Since 2004, China has been approving projects using advanced nuclear power reactors, including US-based Westinghouse’s AP1000 and France-based Areva’s EPR (Evolutionary Power Reactor), many of which are now under construction. Dubbed generation III reactors, they are designed to withstand the crisis that damaged the Japanese nuclear plant.
Construction of these projects has not been smooth. Sanmen Nuclear Power Station in Zhejiang Province was expected to be the first nuclear power plant in the world that uses AP1000 technology. The first of the two reactors was scheduled to finish construction and start operation in November 2013, but construction is now over 18 months behind schedule. The plant won’t start operation until 2016 at the earliest, an official from China’s State Nuclear Power Technology, the company building the power plant, said in January