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China’s Plan to Become a Nuclear Energy Powerhouse

by Axios | 8.16.18

Countable asks: Should the U.S. follow China's lead by moving away from coal toward cleaner, lower-carbon fuels, including nuclear? Why or why not? Hit Take Action to tell your reps, then share your thoughts below. (Via: Axios)


If China achieves the targets outlined in its Energy Development Strategy Action Plan, it will become the world's nuclear energy leader and fundamentally change the global trajectory of the nuclear power industry.

Data: World Nuclear Association; Note: Output of currently operable reactors measured in net MWe (electrical megawatts), while output of future reactors measured in gross MWe; Graphic: Harry Stevens/Axios

The big picture: It's not a foregone conclusion that China will follow through on its plans, especially with the public resistance stemming from the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in Japan. But if Xi Jinping and his administration decide to press on, China will be solidly on track to dominate the nuclear landscape.

The backdrop: In 2005, China began planning an aggressive increase in nuclear generating capacity, with a 15-year trajectory in mind. That has the country's energy future set to reach a crossroads in 2020, when the Communist Party will craft its 14th Five Year Plan.

  • China is the world's largest consumer of energy, but in transitioning to a more sustainable pattern of economic growth, its government has committed to moving away from coal toward cleaner, lower carbon fuels, per the 2018 BP Energy Outlook.
  • The country's nuclear sector relies almost exclusively on light water reactors, long considered "a safe bet" and the international norm for nuclear power, according to Mark Hibbs, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program. But since the 1980s, China has been engaging in research and development of "fast-neutron" reactors, which are vastly more efficient.
  • Until now, no country has succeeded in bringing this technology to an industrial scale because of the complexity, high costs and safety risks. In fact, most countries have suspended development of fast-neutron reactors for the last 15 years. So if China were to successfully convert its R&D into commercial deployment, it would significantly change the landscape of nuclear energy.
  • Projections for China's nuclear ambitions depend on a range of factors, but Hibbs says that pre-Fukushima, experts had the figures pegged at 100 power plants by 2030 and more than 400 by 2050.

The other side: Hibbs, who is the author of "The Future of Nuclear Power in China," also said that when China came up with its nuclear plans in 2005, they were based on three key assumptions.

  1. That China's GDP would continue to grow at a level close to 10%.
  2. That power demand would continue to grow at around 8% or 9%.
  3. That fear of nuclear meltdown in the aftermath of Fukushima would dwindle.

In 2018, none of those assumptions are safe. And while the government has pledged to clean its air by transitioning away from fossil fuels, the alternative is currently more expensive and could cause more than 5 million coal miners to lose their jobs.

The bottom line: China must consider these challenges and more as it hurtles toward the 2020 nexus. But if the country succeeds in surmounting the political risks and commercializing advanced nuclear systems, there will be a push worldwide to generalize these achievements beyond China's borders.

--Zachary Basu

Axios

Written by Axios

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Leave a comment
(12)
  • burrkitty
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Nuclear is great for base-load, far less polluting, and far less dangerous than diesel or coal. The fear about nuclear energy is mostly unfounded. It’s like mass hysteria trauma more than anything else. You actually look at the science, it’s the safest energy generation system. It’s just when something went wrong in the past it was truly horrible. The technology is a lot better these days. The modern nuclear technology cannot melt down the same way that Chernobyl melted down. And Fukushima was a natural disaster that was exacerbated by bad government choices. What went wrong there was what happened AFTER. Not that I think that we should replace all of our baseload generation power with nuclear energy. Hydro would be better. There are plenty of more sustainable energy systems that cause less hysteria then nuclear power. Even if they’re not actually safer.

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  • Dicr
    08/16/2018
    ···

    Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima all show the vulnerability of nuclear power let alone the waste problem. Wind, solar, and hydropower need more research than a space force.

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  • VanillaGorilla
    08/17/2018
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    Our efforts should be focused on researching new methods of energy, including Nuclear. We have plenty of reserve coal and NG to use whilst research is being conducted. At the moment, The disaster nuclear energy poses if mishandled is catastrophic at best. Nuclear energy has the power to destroy an entire country if misused, we must better understand it before we harness its full capability.

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  • Luke
    08/16/2018
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    Kudos, nuclear energy is the future. We’re over here stuck in the past of the coal industry while other countries are making big moves.

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  • Lynn
    08/16/2018
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    Nuclear cleaner than coal? Only in the very short term. Nuke waste NEVER GOES AWAY AND SO-CALLED SAFE STORAGE IS AN ABSOLUTE JOKE. Nuclear waste is deadly toxic for bloody centuries. Contamination risks increase every year FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL CONTAINER!! Don’t get me wrong. I love the technology but the incontrovertible facts of long-term cost and cause/effect are perfectly clear. Nuke is not the way to go even for us. We have the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, OSHA, and EPA as watchdogs, and we still make mistakes. Russia? The Arctic Sea to their north practically glows in the dark. China? With their environmental and workplace safety records? I guarantee that they will pay a steep price for their nuclear energy. And with all the breeder reactors that will spring up, so will everyone else.

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  • Christine
    08/16/2018
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    NO to nuclear energy!

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  • Azrael
    08/17/2018
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    They are the new leaders of the world since trump We’re just a sick, sad, sideshow

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  • Brian
    08/16/2018
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    What has the NRC been doing? If we aren’t leading in nuclear energy then fire the head of the NRC and find someone that will make it happen.

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