At a seminar on Tuesday (Nov. 2), Bo Kong, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, described how China is “diversifying” its energy sources and greatly expanding its use of nuclear power.
“China is not a large nuclear economy,” Kong observed. It currently has 13 operating nuclear plants, producing approximately 11 gigawatts (GW) of power, representing less than 1 percent of China’s total energy production.
(In comparison, the United States has more than 100 operating reactors producing roughly 100 GW and providing nearly 20 percent of its energy. France obtains more than 75 percent of its energy from nuclear power, Ukraine nearly 50 percent, South Korea more than 35 percent, Germany 28 percent, and Japan 25 percent.)
China considers nuclear power to be ‘clean’ energy,” Kong explained, “and is aiming for a fivefold expansion in the next decade.”
China leads the world in nuclear power plant construction. Today, 24 reactor units are under construction, which, when operational in 2015 or earlier, will generate a total of 26 GW of power. An additional 15 GW of nuclear power capacity is approved and in the pipeline for construction.
Unlike the United States, the Chinese public is generally supportive of nuclear power. “It’s desired highly,” said Kong, “because it brings jobs and provides security against power shortages.” He noted that 16 localities have selected 51 preliminary sites for 244 reactor units, which if all built would bring 120 GW of power to inland China and 150 GW to the population centers along the coast.
Regarding the cost of nuclear power vs. coal power [in China], Kong noted that the cost of transporting coal by rail or truck from where it is mined (in Mongolia) to where it is used (China’s east coast) has risen steeply with the increased cost of oil. In addition, many older, inefficient and dirty coal-fired plants are being shut down and other plants are being retrofitted to reduce harmful emissions, all of which is increasing the cost of coal power. At the same time, the construction cost for nuclear power plants is coming down [in China], in part due to the use of local materials and labor
China has less regulation and it is not under one agency. I think it can be debated how much of that is a good or bad thing.