Nuclear plants beneficial, but caution is needed
The central government mapped out a scheme earlier this year to quadruple the current amount of nuclear power in use nationwide by 2020 and raise the share of this type of energy in the country's overall electricity output to 4 per cent.
Some two decades after China started building its first nuclear power plant, the country now has nine nuclear power units operating in Qinshan in Zhejiang Province, Daya Bay and Ling'ao in Guangdong Province, providing a total of 8.7 million kilowatts in energy.
The clear-cut goal is in sharp contrast with the government"s previous stance on the issue, which simply favoured "moderate development" of nuclear plants.
The change comes at a time when China is suffering widespread electricity shortages as conventional hydro- and thermo-power stations cannot sufficiently supply the demands of the nation's booming industries. The construction of more plants is intended to ease these shortages.
Nuclear reactors have proven to be a clean and efficient source of power without the byproducts of thermo-power stations, such as dust emissions, carbon dioxide and sulfides which cause the greenhouse effect and acid rain.
According to estimates from experts, realizing the government's goal to quadruple the country's gross domestic product from the 2000 level by the year 2020 will involve more than 450 million kilowatts of new power-generating capacity, which is equivalent to burning 1.2 billion tons of coal.
Construction of nuclear power plants will reduce the unbearable pressure on mining and transportation and avoid further damaging the fragile environment.
China's huge need for nuclear power will also bring forth bright hope for the declining international nuclear power industry.
Despite all the advantages of nuclear power, however, one question remains worrying: nuclear waste disposal.
Even in countries with advanced nuclear power technology, the disposal of radioactive waste is technically a hard nut to crack and requires extremely cautious handling.
Although the central government already has a decree on the administration of nuclear materials, rules concerning nuclear waste disposal are little-known by the public compared to the attention on the construction of nuclear power plants.
The government should work out a clear design on how to take good care of waste disposal before kicking off its nuclear power projects.
(China Daily 05/28/2004 page6)