China to generate hundreds of millions of kilowatts from nuclear in 'the near future'

China may dramatically increase the proportion of energy it gets from nuclear power ’in the near future’, according to the energy expert charged with developing the country’s new energy strategy. 

Zhou Dadi, former director of the Energy Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), says that China could use nuclear power to generate hundreds of millions of kilowatts - far higher than the target set out in plans last year. 

According to the NDRC’s March 2006 Middle and Long-term Development Plan for Nuclear Power (2005-2020), China would increase its nuclear power generation from 7 million kilowatts to 40 million kilowatts by 2020, accounting for 4 per cent of total capacity. But the following month Zhang Guobao, vice-minister of NDRC, cast doubt on China’s ability to reach that target because few power stations had been given the go-ahead and there was insufficient funding to build more. 

Now, just a year and a half later, the situation looks very different, says Zhou, who is currently leading a team of more than 100 researchers to develop country’s national energy strategy.

’With the current development speed, we can without question fulfil our [nuclear power] goal by 2020,’ he said. ’In the near future, it is possible that our nuclear power generation capacity will be hundreds of millions of kilowatts, instead of the planned dozens of millions,’ says Zhou. 

"In the near future, it is possible that our nuclear power generation capacity will be hundreds of millions of kilowatts, instead of the planned dozens of millions" - Zhou Dadi

Zhou was speaking at a seminar in Beijing on 22 October to mark the launch of two energy reports - one by the InterAcademy Council (IAC), which represents 15 national science academies, and another by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). 

The new national energy strategy would also prioritise hydropower, said Zhou. ’It is true that large hydropower projects will impact ecologies, but without developing them, we will have to explore more coal, causing much greater environmental disasters.’ 

But China will not develop biofuels by growing oil-rich plants such as jatropha trees, he added. 

At the same event, Wang Naiyan, a prominent scientist at China Institute of Atomic Energy, said that the proportion of China’s generation capacity coming from nuclear could increase from 4 per cent in 2020 to 10 per cent in 2035 and 30 per cent in 2050. 

Wang said that as well as building conventional reactors, which rely on Uranium-235, China is speeding up R&D on fast neutron technologies, which use Uranium-238. Worldwide reserves of Uranium-238 are 100 times more abundant than Uranium-235. 

Business investment in new types of nuclear reactors, such as high temperature gas-cooled reactor and the accelerator driven system-based reactors, is also on the rise, according to Wang. 

The ambitious goals for renewables and nuclear power chimes with the CAS report, ’Addressing the challenge: Developing a sustainable energy system’. The report predicts China’s consumption of fossil fuels will not grow by 50 per cent before 2050. Most current predictions suggest that China’s fossil fuel consumption will exceed that level 20 years earlier, in 2030. The CAS report also says that non-hydropower renewables should account for 25 per cent of China’s total energy portfolio by 2050. In contrast, the IAC report, ’Lighting the way: Toward a sustainable energy future’, recommends carbon capture and sequestration technology be prioritised. 

Hepeng Jia