China's ambition to become a nuclear power superpower

Over the past seven decades, China has continuously built reactors with the expectation of surpassing the United States as the world's largest nuclear power producer.

In the green book published by the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA) on April 26, China continues to maintain its leading position in the world in terms of the number of nuclear power units under construction, with 24 reactor under construction, with a total installed capacity of 26.81 million kilowatts.

Since 2022, China has approved 10 new nuclear power units, put three into commercial operation, and started building six new ones. To date, China has 54 commercial nuclear power units with a total installed capacity of 56.82 million kilowatts.

China is the world's third largest nuclear power producer, after the US and France, generating about 10% of global nuclear power. Nuclear power contributed 4.9% of China's total electricity production in 2019.

Nuclear power is seen as an alternative to coal, as public and official concerns grow over air quality, climate change and fossil fuel shortages. China is expected to become the world's leading nuclear power by 2030 and reach its goal of producing 200 gigawatts of electricity by 2035, thanks to 150 additional reactors.

The country has two major nuclear power companies, the China National Nuclear Corporation, which operates in the northeast region, and the China Nuclear Power Corporation, which operates mainly in the southeast.

Haiyang nuclear power plant in Shandong province, eastern China. Photo: Global Times

China began to develop nuclear power in the 1950s-1958s, when it cooperated with the Soviet Union to build its first research facility called the Institute of Atomic Energy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, then established China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) in 1955. In December 1958, nuclear power development became the top priority project in the Draft 12-year Plan for China's Science and Technology Development.

In June 1959, the Soviet Union withdrew all nuclear technicians from China, forcing Beijing to invest and research on its own to continue developing nuclear power and achieve some remarkable achievements in nuclear development. for the period 1961-1962.

In February 1970, China established Institute 728, now Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute (SNERDI), to plan the construction of a nuclear power plant.

The first nuclear power plant designed and built by China named Qinshan was built in 1984 and successfully connected to the grid on December 15, 1991.

To serve its economic development goals, China continues to require the expansion of the power sector. In the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-2005), Beijing defines an important part of its energy policy as "ensure energy security, optimize energy diversity, improve efficiency, protect ecological environment". The 2013 Nuclear Safety Plan states that after 2016, only generation III nuclear power plants will be operational.

In 2014, China set a target to produce 58 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2020. However, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, very few nuclear power plants have been built by China since 2015, so no target is not met.

In 2017, the country's reactors produced a total of 38 gigawatts of electricity, but aim to increase that to 120-150 gigawatts by 2030. "We already have a complete system, do we have a solid foundation? not only about design but also about construction and safety," said Zheng Mingguang, president of SNERDI, at the time. "That's why Chinese nuclear power is so economically viable."

By the end of December 2020, the total number of nuclear power units in operation in China reached 49, with a total installed capacity of 51 gigawatts, ranking third in the world in terms of installed capacity and second in production. amount of electricity.

The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), part of the Atomic Energy Administration of China, is the agency that licenses and regulates, as well as maintains, international safety agreements. Established in 1984, it reports all matters directly to the State Council of China.

Hualong-1 Nuclear Power Plant Demonstration Project at Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant, Fujian, China. Photo: CGTN

Lu Tiezhong, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), in an interview with the Global Times said that Chinese nuclear power plants have the world's top safety records. . He added that developing nuclear power is an inevitable choice to ensure China's sustainable economic and social development, meet people's needs for a better life, and realize the "dual carbon" goal. " of the country.

China claims to peak in CO2 emissions by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060. This is known as the "dual carbon" target.

"As a safe and efficient source of energy, nuclear power operates stably and reliably with long refueling cycles, suitable for power grid loads and required electrical load monitoring. It can be replaced fossil energy as a base load power source on a large scale," said Lu, assistant general manager of China National Nuclear Corporation and chairman of China National Nuclear Power Company.

Genevieve Donnellon-May, a PhD student at the University of Oxford, said that by 2030 and even earlier, China could overtake the US to become the world's largest nuclear power producer.

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