NUCLEAR POWER IS being fast-tracked in China as the country this year commits to install another 800GW of nuclear electric power. This compares with some 220GW of new capacity approved for construction in 2013.
To date, nuclear power accounts for only 2% of China's total installed electricity generating capacity compared with a world average of closer to 10%. So it's growing from a small base of 20 reactors totalling almost 15GW now in operation, with around 30 more reactors planned for construction, according to the National Energy Administration.
Nuclear power is destined to reach 5,800GW by 2020 (5% of total electricity capacity) and to play a significant strategic role in China's electricity generation mix, alongside renewable energy, smart grids and green or low-carbon technology.
While most of China's nuclear power stations are located in coastal areas, the Taohuajiang power station in Central Hunan Province may be the first nuclear project to be built in an inland area after the central government suspended the approval of new nuclear power projects following Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011. Two other inland nuclear power plant projects remain suspended - the Pengze plant in Jiangxi and the Dafan plant in Hubei.
Back in 2012, China's State Council announced that China would not build any nuclear power stations in inland regions but would focus on approving nuclear power projects in coastal areas. But China's worsening air pollution has caused a rethink of this policy which means that inland projects could now be back on the agenda.
The nuclear industry is a growing business in China, not just for electricity generators. China's National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is currently collaborating with Canadian nuclear industry organisations to improve the efficiency of China's first domestically-designed and built nuclear power station at Qinshan, Haiyan County in Zhejiang Province. Haiyan County's nuclear industry had a turnover of Rmb 17 billion (close to US$3 billion) in 2013.
CNNC and Candu Energy Inc of Canada are working together to exploit Candu's fuel cycle advantage technology by converting two existing Candu reactors in Qinshan phase 3 to burn 'natural uranium-equivalent' fuel comprised of recycled uranium, which is more environmentally friendly than traditional processed-uranium reactor fuel.
Candu reckons the new technology can help China extract up to 40% more energy from natural uranium compared with traditional sources. Canadian nuclear companies hope to cooperate with CNNC to develop a Haiyan nuclear industrial park in the hinterland around the Qinshan nuclear plant. If the plan goes ahead, then construction of the park could start within the next few years.