How Much Nuclear Power Would China Need to Meet the 1.5 °C Climate Target?

A study analyzed the nuclear power capacity needed in China by 2050 to realize the 1.5 °C target, as well as the feasibility, necessary measures, and difficulty.

China generated 6990 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2018 and is generating 3.1% more in 2019 (as of the latest Jan-October statisics.

China is expecting to roughly double electricity generation by 2050 to 14,000 TWh.

China has some plans to generate 80% of power from renewable energy sources and nuclear energy.

The electricity generation mix will be

Energy Type     2015 Share  2050 Share
nuclear power    3.0%        28%
wind power       3.3%        21%    
solar power      0.7%        16.6%
hydropower      17.7%        14% 
biomass energy   7.6%         0.3%
Coal            71%           5.3%
Natural Gas      3%           6.1%

The installed capacity of nuclear power plants needs to increase from 26 GW in 2015 to 554 GW in 2050. Considering that the annual uptime of nuclear power plants could increase from 7000 h to more than 7500 h, the installed capacity of China’s nuclear power can reach around 500 GW by 2050 to realize the 1.5 °C target. This would be nearly 3750 TWh from nuclear energy in China. This would be nearly 5 times more than current US nuclear energy. It would 150% of global nuclear energy today.

Nuclear power plants have not been built in Heilongjiang, Jilin, Hebei, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Henan, Chongqing, Sichuan, and Guizhou provinces, but they have many nuclear power plant sites. According to the site selection assessments, there are 45 sites in the abovementioned provinces, where 172 total reactors can be installed. There are 77 sites in the above provinces, where 345 total reactors can be installed. Moreover, 56 reactors are already being operated or constructed, with a total installed capacity of 58,000 MW. Therefore, around 290 reactors can be added.

If 1500 MW per reactor design are adopted then the total installed capacity of the additional 290 reactors could reach 433.3 GW, making the aggregate installed capacity of all the 345 reactors reach 491.3 GW, nearly 500 GW.

China will need to build about 10 nuclear reactors a year.

China’s three major equipment manufacturing bases can already build 10–12 reactors every year.

Is the nuclear power construction capacity sufficient? China Nuclear Engineering & Construction Group Corporation Limited has worked on 22 nuclear reactors at the same time. Nuclear power plants take 4–5 years to build in China. If Chinahas 10 nuclear reactors construction starts every year, then there will be 50 reactors in the same construction cycle. Therefore, China’s nuclear power plant construction capacity needs to be doubled.

China must staff and train many nuclear power operation & management employees. If there is no change in staffing levels per plant then China will need ten times as many people in the nuclear energy industry.

If costs are comparable to today then this will cost China about $1 to 1.4 trillion to build. This could be double assuming inflation and interest. China would need to spend nearly $70 billion per year (CNY 500 billion) for this build. China spent over three times ($220 billion) as much in 2014 and 2015 building coal, natural gas and other energy.

China will need more than 90,000 t natural uranium each year. In 2016, the total global demand was 65,000 t uranium, and the total output is only 62,000 t uranium. Meanwhile, China’s natural uranium production of 1600 t only meets quarter of the domestic demand.

There is plenty of uranium resources, reserves and unconventional sources in phosphate and in the ocean. The researchers believe with increased exploration for Uranium in China might be able to supply itself with 36,000 tons of uranium each year. The rest would need to be imported.

42 thoughts on “How Much Nuclear Power Would China Need to Meet the 1.5 °C Climate Target?”

  1. Get with the program. America is building two new nuclear submarines per year. Wait, nuclear submarines? Two per year? That looks pretty much to me like mass production of small nuclear power plants. Small enough to fit into submarines. That sounds pretty portable, to me.

  2. It is a sad fact that, even in a world where the smart phone has turned society upside down in just ten years, the Western world still thinks that we will be living in exactly the same technological world 30 years from now that we are in today. What a difference from the 70’s, where people EXPECTED to live, and actually did end up living in, a world that would be completely different in just ten years. Future Shock has turned into Future Agnotology.

  3. involved in delivering natural gas to every urban home? Even as far back as 1880, could anyone have accurately predicted the costs and feasibiity of delivering electrical power to almost every major urban household and electrifying almost every domestic task by 1910?

    By 2050, for sure, we will have nuclear power plants small enoigh to fit into major buildings. Consider that, even TODAY, we have nuclear power plants that can safely fit into a nuclear submarine, and powerful enough to meet the energy needs of an entire air craft carrier. It is inconcievable that we will not have an entire industry producing commercial miniature nuclear power plants by 2040, small enough and portble enough to be placed right at big factory sites. It is even concievable that commercial supertankers will be nuclear powered.

    Not to mention that nuclear fusion will be available, at least in prototype form.

    So at best, this article is fictional speculation, at worst it promotes dangerous ‘sky is falling’ conspiracy theory.

    It also, incidentally, does not address the issue that the lifespan of the majority of the nuclear plants in operation today is about, well, less than the 30 years. By 2050, pretty much ALL of the nuclear infrastructure we have today will have to be replaced. That is, just like the red queen, we will have to run like mad just to stay where we are.

    It is a sad fact that, even in a world where the smart phone has turned society upside down in just ten years, the Western world st

  4. I can not believe I am reading such trifflingly speculative worthless nonesense on a site that portends to understand science, thechnology, and credible knowledge advancement. The physics textbook doubles in thickness every ten years. By 2030, it will be double what it is today. By 2040, double that. By 2050, it will be unimaginably thick. 

    And China is leading the way in increasing its thickness. By 2050, they will be graduating more doctorate nuclear physicists than are alive on earth today.

    So making projections about THIRTY YEARS from now, based on today’s knowledge? It’s like someone in 1950 making calculations on the costs of building infrastructure for a world that would almost double in total population, world GDP would increae by over ten times, and the increase in the standard of living was unimaginable. We went from urban homes heated by oil space heaters and coal furnaces to predominantly universal central gas heating, where even cars had air conditioning, and washing machines went from manual wringers and reused water to fully automatic, dryers included. (Yes, ‘we’, as I grew up during this period). Consider trying to project demands for and costs of providing coal furnaces and coal home delivery in 1980, based on 1950 infrastructure? Or better still, trying to judge the feasability of and infrastructure costs involved in delivering natural gas to every urban home? Even as far back as 1880, could anyone have accurately predicted the costs and feasibiity of deli

  5. The other problem is this from the same paper: “climate modelers cannot be expected to accurately project future emissions and associated changes in external forcings, which depend on human behavior, technological change, and economic and population growth.”

    I trust you interpret this correctly. That is, while SOME (in this case 30%) of GMST models from the past are within 10-40 year real life variability, the authors claim that the INPUTS to the models (external forcings) can’t be predicted. E.g., shift to nuclear, billions of people in Africa burning coal etc. So what then, is the usefulness of “predictive” climate models? All you need to do is look at the various RCP scenarios and understand that there is so much uncertainty, it is extremely difficult to not only draw conclusions but also make policy.

    Lastly, it has been shown, repeatedly, that none of the models from the recent past could match the great GSMT variations of the long past eg the zero temp increases of 1860-1920 and DECLINE 1940-1980. Only some theory that forcings take a while to affect temperatures.

    Basically, no one has any real clue. It seems pretty obvious that there is a strong likelihood that GSMT won’t be +10c or -10c in the next 20 years (ie so-called climate emergency), but that is a useless variability to work with.

  6. Maybe you misunderstand me. There are 2 problems. One is this from the paper you cited:
    “In about 9 of the 17 model projections examined, the projected forcings were within the uncertainty envelope of observational forcing ensemble. However, the remaining 8 models – RS71, H81 scenario 1, H88 scenarios A, B, and C, FAR, MS93, and TAR – had projected forcings significantly stronger or weaker than observed (Figure 1). ”

    The “uncertainty envelope” is the margin of error. Ie that their model fits within the real variability of global mean surface temperatures. It means that of 17 models eight (47%) missed their mark. Of the remaining 9, four models had temperatures within real life but CO2 forcings (it’s on the table) way outside real life. In summary, 5 models were within real life temperature AND real life CO2 forcings. Or, in plain language, 30% of the models could retroactively predict this. Interestingly, one of the oldest models was “best” but the researchers concluded it was so rudimentary it couldn’t be used to predict the future. Now I’m running out of space to write, read below.

  7. NZ is green, and Australia really is yellow and brown right now, fast becoming black ash. I remember a line from a Bruce Sterling novel that went “Australia was a desert surrounded by a skid mark of green that, with climate change, soon became a desert surrounded by a skid mark of ash.”

  8. Maybe the fissile content is that low, but the fertile content and all those actinides are still very high. That’s why we breed the fuel: we’ve got to separate out the actinides and store them in new fuel rods around the reactor for a year to help them gobble up spare neutrons like wet logs drying around a good hot bonfire. Then these fuel rods can be melted down and reprocessed to make fissile rods ready for the reactor core. OR we can just bypass the whole messy solid fuel rod process, and chuck the used reactor fuel rods straight into the hot radioactive molten core of the MCSFR which will both breed new fuel out of the fertile stuff and keep fissioning the actual fuel in there. Being a liquid FAST reactor it doesn’t need waste products removed for decades.

  9. ‘Even France is having big trouble building one new reactor.’
    They need more practice. China can build their own ones in about four and a bit years, same as the French and Koreans were doing. The EPR actually had a lot of German input to the design, which is like getting the Saudis to design your brewery. They have another model, the Atmea, which is simpler and a bit smaller.

  10. Look, if kiwis don’t want nuclear power as it is, they certainly don’t want to be dissolving the spent fuel in hydrofluoric acid and then separating the uranium with fluorine gas. All along that process that I just mentioned in two sentences is a lot of dealing with nasty dirt that will kill you. And that equipment needs to be maintained… when I say that it is easier to maintain machinery that can process natural uranium, what I mean is that natural uranium is something I could make a bed out of but the spent fuel is something that requires remote handling. Enough already John. Kiwis need to walk before they can run… sure thorium is a sexy thing. Let’s just f****** get through the next lifetime. If I was kiwi I would hold on to everything that makes New Zealand beautiful which is the green untampered wilderness… I totally understand it. You guys are living in a Wonderland. It’s great. It’s even better than Australia. Because it’s f****** green

  11. Table cannot be right, because both 2015 and 2050 don’t add up to 100%, not nearly (so not just rounding error). 2015 adds up to about 106%, 2050 adds up to about 92%.

  12. Sorry, I was writing too fast. I’ve edited it for clarity, it’s for a world of 10 billion people. In other words, supplying first world electricity both to the poor today and population growth tomorrow. AND I copied and pasted the wrong link! Whoops! Here’s my clip for the 100% Renewables crowd:

    He says believing in 100% renewables is like believing in the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy. Instead he says the world should build 115 reactors a year!

  13. Simpler design than the design being built now. Even France is having big trouble building one new reactor.

  14. Small enough to be factory built and move with a truck, small enough to be a dirty bomb. Not a fan. Bigger is better. Just standardize the design.

  15. The only pouched mammals here are shot on sight. But yes, nuclear here is regarded as black magic, and political parties are more likely to endorse satanism and paedophilia. The government sent a bunch of technicians overseas to train to run reactors in the late sixties, but then decided coal and gas would last forty years, we’ll go nuclear then. That’s where we are now, but the anti-nuke line has become institutionalised.
    At present, sure, it’s easier to mine uranium than process spent fuel, and it would take a huge rise in demand to change that. A huge rise is just what we need.

  16. Dr James Hansen says we can clean up electricity for 10 billion by 2050 by building 115 GW per year until then.

    $10 billion? Or 10 billion reactors? Or what? Because if the claim is replacing all the coal for $10B then that’s a fantasy. That’s one reactor.
    I didn’t actually find that claim at that link.

    Thorcon can expand production quickly…

    Thorcon? If Thorcon increased the number of reactors they make by 500% per year for 20 years they would still be making zero.

  17. The fissile content of well used LWR fuel is indeed near 1%. Pretty sure spent fuel is worth less than natural U. It actually has like negative worth for the holder who incurs cost. What was the point?

    Lemmie know when the kiwis want to step up and be something other than latte drinking beatniks and build a nuke plant. It would be my pleasure to move there to help bootstrap it, but alas, I think this whole science is banned down under in the land of strange birds and pouched mammals and post-industrial white people that never hosted industry.

  18. Sorry, but are you denying nuclear ‘waste’ is loaded for bear with actinides that we would otherwise have to store for 100,000 years? Why not just burn them in a breeder like the MCSFR and get 60 to 90 times the energy out of them? Just burying nuclear ‘waste’ is like digging up and refining your best A-grade jet fuel then burying it for 100,000 years.
    Also, Indonesia have signed a deal for ThorCon’s boat-nukes.

  19. France completed 45 reactors from 1978 to 1988 – 4.5 a year. Comparing the size of the French economy in the eighties to that of China in the 2020s, with 25 times the population, it strains credulity to suppose they can’t do more.

  20. Carbon zero by 2050 won’t lower temps, but if it stops them rising so fast it would be worth the effort. We’ve been getting smoke from Australian bushfires in New Zealand, two thousand kilometres away. Australian and Kiwi firefighters used to go over to help American ones, and vice versa, but now the fire seasons are starting to overlap.

  21. Spent fuel rods sit in pools with no external effects, and if you want to get fissile out of them, they’ve got more -counting plutonium and unused U235 – than the best uranium ores. The waste from your pickup goes into the air, where it joins the billions of tons from everyone else’s exhaust pipes and chimneys to push our climate off kilter.

  22. Yeah I think the only realistic way for there to be a mass nuclear buildout is if 4th gen reactors that are small enough to be factory built are created. China has massive incentives to go nuclear rapidly and even they are not going quick enough.

    Supercritical C02 turbines are a technology that could help get overall plant sizes down a bit.

  23. Let’s look at it globally. Dr James Hansen says we can clean up electricity for a world of 10 billion people by 2050 by building 115 GW per year until then.
    On a reactor to GDP ratio, the French already BEAT this build out rate! We know it can be done, because we’ve already done it before.
    Thorcon can expand production quickly. But really, if governments are keen, even today’s reactors like the CAP1400 could be standardised, put on a production line, and come off the line as cheap as coal. (Cheaper, if you include coals health costs.) CAP1400’s provide the perfect waste for future breeders like the MCSFR to eat.

  24. There’s something off with the chart. The first column adds up to 106.3% and the second adds up to only 91.3%. The first must be wrong, and what happened to the other 15%? Energy efficiency/less waste? That seems hard to believe given China’s expected growth, though we don’t have absolute values anyway.

  25. They’ve averaged 5 a year over the last 5 years, so 4 seems pretty conservative. Doubling their rate is tough but not completely unreasonable. I’d say that the goal is extremely aggressive, but not impossible.

    Also: 30 years is a long time, even by nuclear power standards. You could get a Gen IV technology that made nukes a lot easier to deploy.

  26. I suspect the bottlenecks will be financing, political will and qualified workers. The uranium supply will solve itself once the demand rises.

  27. ‘Reprocessing expensive.’
    Enrichment used to be expensive too. The French used to run three reactors to enrich fuel for the other fifty-odd. Now they could do it with one just on Sundays. Considering the amount of energy inherent in spent fuel, or depleted uranium, there’s no physical reason why power from it can’t be cheap. Leach mining has got a lot better too, though, and so has uranium prospecting, so the industry might be able to put off indefinitely the evil day when it has to innovate .

  28. “something, something about substituting thorium for 238U”

    Something has to fission GG. It makes no sense to mix thorium into enriched uranium, because that will just dilute the material back down to a lower effective enrichment. This is true if MOXed into the pellet or inserted in the fuel assembly as a target rod.

    We must agree that the only ways to use thorium in a solid fueled reactor are:

    1) blend into MOX pellet or mixed alloy


    2) drive target rods containing thorium

    I am conspicuously avoiding mention of miraculous MSRs that Mr. Hargraves et al. claim may be topped up with ThF4 like a cuppa.

    If we load thorium target rods in a LWR, then we must de-rate the reactor in proportion to fraction of target rods. If we evenly load 25% target (i.e. dead) rods, we must reduce overall output to 75% (less actually) to have margin to fuel damage. Not enough space to elaborate. So, target rods are only good for feeding a reprocessing cycle. The thorium fuel cycle that makes sense involves reprocessing to suck the 233U out so that it can be blended with more ThO2. You can separate 233U from Th MOX using the fluoride conversion process used every day to feed the centrifuges. It’s actually easier than the PUREX/UREX reprocessing and that scares the shyt out of the world leaders.

    So, thorium useless without reprocessing. Reprocessing expensive.

  29. No matter… I’ll toss out the snark and answer the bonafides …

    My ‘uranium barons’ aren’t the providers-of-cake-or-rods, but the nuclear fission technology sector as a whole  

    I do not doubt that Canada, Auziland, America and Iran (amongst others) have heaping reserves, just waiting for the Kazakhs to cease market dumping. No doubt.  

    Yet, were the count of operating nuclear reactors worldwide jump from hundreds today to thousands in a few short decades, the uptick in LEU will be marked. ‘Nuff for all of the presently electable uranium miners to indefinitely fulfill?  Some say yes, some say no. I tend to believe more-no-than-yes.

    Thorium, added as substitute-rod to existing LWR and PWR reactors doesn’t need to be viewed as ‘reprocessed’ in order to fulfill an energy-per-kg approximately in par with LEU ²³⁵U and in-situ transuranics co-fissioning cycle.  But I’m no fission-cycle expert. Just what I’ve been reading.

    Lastly, the extraordinarily conservatıve graphs and operating parameters comment was more directed at substituting-rods-of-another-type being anathema, than any other implication.  

    Enjoy your coffee and donut, friend.
    Just Saying, … eat better, hate less…
    GoatGuy ✓

  30. First off, there are no “Uranium Barons”; just some Kazakhs flooding the market with cake and driving prices down below what the Aussies and Canadians want just to get out of bed. US deposits are sitting there for the same reason. Literally ALL US uranium and services besides fabrication are imported from the cheapest suppliers – even (heavens no!): the Russians.

    Second of all, no problem with thorium if there is no problem with reprocessing, but there is a problem with reprocessing, thus no thorium. FYI the MSR counts as reprocessing.

    Third of all, learn the basis of what you rare describing as “extraordinarily restrictive operating parameters and conditions”. These reactors are operated with thumb rules and curve books. The boundaries of the “restrictive operating parameters” are not challenged. Any NextBigReactor you think is going to be easier to operate, ain’t gonna be. It only sounds simple to you because they are conceptual at this time.

  31. And were India to uptick its reactor count.
    And all-of-Africa, not likely to remain in the Dark forever…
    And America Sud y Central… ditto.

    Thorium starts to look better and better.  
    Perhaps as a transition metal for existing reactors?

    Sub a bit of the fuel load, now. It transmutes to ²³³U, then fissions.
    Sub a bit more.  And so on. 

    Perhaps anathema to The Uranium Barons and their extraordinarily restrictive reactor operating parameters and conditions, but still … 

    Could be done.
    Cheap, too.

    GoatGuy ✓

  32. Not going to happen. They will build about 4 reactors a year. By 2050, they will have 80 more reactors.

  33. for sure agree. The analysis made a point that it isn’t about reserves, it is where to get them (economically) IF China decides to add 300 reactors, AND no new tech will be invented to make other (domestic) extraction economical. Ie status quo.

    As for U, there are plenty of reserves, Thorium too. Just like oil, but not always where you want to get it from.

  34. So, you’re a peak uranium-er? USA exports gas/oil from exploded, sand-packed, sideways-drilled wells in shale; this was science fiction 20 years ago. Apparently, this is economical [enough] since the petro-gas industry is taking over power generation while exporting LNG, etc.

    300 reactors
    30 tons-enriched/reload
    1.5 years/reload

    That’s 200 reloads/year
    6000 tons/year

    At 10:1 to make 4.5% enriched that is 60,000 tons-natural/year

    If China has 2E6 tons in deposits:

    Then that is only 33 years of supply, and thus the peak uranium argument is born.

    The same math holds for HWR with discharge of 6GWD/T; a 4GW station will consume about 209 tons-natural/year and 2E6 tons will again last about 33 years.

    China probably not going to make 100 reactors… so now the supply will last 100 years… So, maybe they’ll start reprocessing in 90 years and simply improve the conversion ratio of the next set of LWR and HWR and make them less of burners and stretch the supply. All we must do is pack the fuel tighter (displace water), and run the fuel at lower power – maybe make the reactors bigger yet again.

    Any predictions about a choke point in uranium supply should be attached to that other article posted yesterday, which discussed predictions for 2020-2100. I think it is more likely that some advanced extraction techniques will make new material available without resorting to the 3 ppb in the world’s oceans.

  35. It’s nothing more than an educated guess. The Guidance Notes in the IPCC manuals are based on subjective guesswork. For instance, for the RCP2.6 scenario out to 2065, the MEAN increase in global temps is modeled at 1c with a 66% likelihood it will range from 0.4 to 1.6c in warming. That “66%” is purely subjective and not based on any statistical rigor. And somehow this drives policy….

  36. What a fascinating study. China will need 300 more reactors at a cost of about $1.1trillion to get to carbon zero (for electricity, I assume they will still be making plastic stuff and fertilizers). The only real bottleneck is uranium supplies. There is a great deal of back-of-the-envelope here, but the conclusion is pretty blatantly clear – whether they go 3rd gen nuclear or 4th gen, they will still be totally dependent on outsiders for fuel (Uranium and/or Thorium) unless they get it from the oceans.

    That is, if “carbon zero by 2050” will lower global temps….climate models are hardly useful.

  37. Even assuming CO2 drives climate (it doesn’t) how could such a calculation be made,and with what degree of accuracy?

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