Suspension after Fukushima lifted for stations of ‘highest standards’
The construction of new nuclear power stations, which had been suspended since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, will be resumed in China.
But only a small number will be launched by 2015 and all of them will be located at coastal sites.
Prior to the Fukushima disaster, some energy officials indicated China would embark on as many as 40 nuclear energy projects during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), and at least seven inland provinces applied to host plants.
In contrast, according to a statement released on the government website on Wednesday, China will resume construction of nuclear power plants "in a steady and orderly way" and "at a reasonable pace".
Two programs — the national plan for nuclear power security (2011-20) and nuclear power development (2011-20) — were approved on Wednesday at an executive meeting of the State Council chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao. A national energy development program up to 2015 was also approved.
All new nuclear reactors must comply with the highest international safety standards, according to the plans.
He Jiankun, director of the Institute of Low Carbon Economy at Tsinghua University, said nuclear power strikes a balance between an increasing thirst for energy and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. "Nuclear energy is irreplaceable," he said.
China’s competitiveness will be compromised if it rejects nuclear power or if it fails to use the latest nuclear technology, he said.
The choice of a site for a nuclear power station "must be based on thorough scientific research". And there must be adequate assurances that under no circumstances would radioactive leakage occur, he added.
China’s nuclear power generating capacity accounts for just 1.8 percent of its electricity, lower than the average 14 percent for countries that have nuclear power, according to a government white paper on energy policies that was also released on Wednesday.
"The development of nuclear power is significant for the optimization of China's energy structure and will safeguard national energy security," it said, adding China will continue to develop nuclear energy in a "safe and highly efficient" way.
Safety is the priority, it said.
"China has conducted comprehensive and stringent security and safety checks following the Fukushima nuclear accident. The results have proved that the safety of China's nuclear power is guaranteed," the white paper said.
The paper also addressed China's increasing dependence on imported oil and said its low energy reserves continue to threaten energy security.
Robust economic growth in the past two decades has transformed the country from a net oil exporter to a major importer.
Experts said energy security and oil security are world issues that need global solutions.
"The world's oil situation is changing with more geopolitical uncertainties," Tsinghua University's He said. "The development of gas shale in the United States has alleviated its reliance on imported oil and lessened its interests in the Middle East."
China needs to boost oil exploration, increase global cooperation and contribute to the establishment of an international system of energy security, he said.
Per capita energy consumption in China is about one-third of that of developed countries but will grow sharply, the white paper said.
Li Zuojun, an economist at the Institute of Resources and Environmental Policies with the State Council's Development Research Center, said China must promote low-carbon development.
Coal still accounts for about 70 percent of China's energy consumption and about 80 percent of its electricity production. Coal production was 3.18 billion metric tons in 2011 and the country aims to curb that to around 3.9 billion tons by 2015, according to the 12th Five-Year Plan for the coal industry.
"China's energy consumption is highly reliant on abundant coal, which leads to serious environmental problems," Li said.
The country has set a target to enhance the proportion of non-fossil fuels in the overall primary energy mix to 15 percent by 2020, while it also plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.