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.