The country will accelerate the construction of nuclear power plants, particularly in the coastal regions, to ease mounting pressures on coal transportation from the northern regions and electricity transmission from west China, a top energy official said Sunday.
The move, which could see nuclear power making up a minimum of 5 percent of the country's total energy mix in 2020, from the current level of less than 2 percent, was announced yesterday by Zhang Guobao, chief of the newly elevated National Energy Bureau.
In 2005, the authorities had planned for the amount to hit 4 percent by 2020.
"We have decided to readjust our earlier goal for nuclear power development, and by 2020 the ratio will be at least 5 percent," said Zhang, whose bureau was elevated to national level during the recent administrative reshuffle approved at the annual session of National People's Congress that closed last Tuesday.
The bureau remains part of the economic planning authority, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
Zhang revealed the latest target for nuclear power at a three-day China Development Forum in Beijing, which ends today.
He said the readjustment was decided after the country's central and southern regions were devastated by heavy snow in January and February, where trunk railways and power grids were severely damaged.
Zhang, who is also NDRC vice-minister, said the snow havoc had shown the country's energy security to be under threat from a "fragile supply-demand balance" of coal, which is mainly transported from northern China to power the economic hubs in the southern and eastern regions.
He said the authorities had weighed the gains and risks from speeding up the construction of nuclear power plants.
"All sides (policymakers and the public) have reached the consensus that nuclear energy is an ideal option for China," he said.
While the choosing of sites for nuclear plants in the inland areas is being quickened, Zhang said construction of the power plants should first be sped up in energy-intensive coastal areas.
He said that with the industrialization of key technologies and proper waste disposal, the country was capable of realizing the increased use of nuclear power.
Zhang added that even as the country had command of key technologies, it would strengthen efforts in international cooperation in the sector.
China currently has 11 nuclear power plants with a combined installed capacity of 9.08 million kW. Three use domestic technology, two are based on Russian technology, four use French technology and two are Canadian-designed.
Wind power in China has already exceeded energy development plan targets and the country is set to become the world's largest generator of wind power, Zhang said.
The Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Gansu and Jiangsu provinces have been picked to hold the country's first batch of wind power clusters, designed to generate 10 million kW each, Zhang said.
This is compared with about 18 million kW from the Three Gorges electricity power generators in the Yangtze River.
He said when all the wind farms are put into operation by 2013, China will surpass Germany as the world's biggest wind power producer. Currently, Germany has the wind power capacity of 22 million kW.
With currently 74 officers in charge of the country's energy administration, Zhang said that more staff will be recruited to his bureau to strengthen energy management.
But he added that the bureau, seen as likely to take responsibility for the planning and approval of energy projects, is not seeking to obtain the authority to control pricing in the sector.
Currently, the pricing rights of refined oil and electricity are in the hands of the NDRC's pricing department.
"No matter who is in charge, the goal of our reform is to let the market have the final say," Zhang said.
He added that there is no immediate decision to deregulate refined oil prices.