2003-09-02 10:45:33
China cautious about nuke power
  Author: JIA HEPENG,China Business Weekly staff

China apparently has decided to move quickly to produce new nuclear power, despite having suspended its nuclear power generation programme six years ago.

But various issues - ranging from high costs and independent technologies to environmental protection - concern the Chinese Government as it considers ratifying new nuclear-power-station construction projects.

Guangzhou-based 21st Economic Herald reported earlier this year that the State Council had agreed to develop four nuclear power stations in Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces.

China last approved construction of a nuclear power station in 1997.

Each of the four new nuclear power stations - two in Zhejiang's Sanmen County and two in Guangdong's Yangjiang County - will be capable of generating more than 1 million kilowatts of electricity.

Total investments could reach 50 billion yuan (US$6 billion).

Officials in Hubei, Hunan, Fujian and Shandong provinces reportedly also filed applications with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) to construct nuclear power plants.

China Power Investment Corp, the country's leading electricity facility developer, is studying the feasibility of constructing a nuclear power plant in Dalian, in Northeast China's Liaoning Province.

NDRC has not formally approved the projects.

After 20 years of massive nuclear power development, China in 1997 adopted a cautious attitude, to avoid oversupply and to protect the environment.

The government, in its 10-year plan released in 1999, gave priority to water-based power. In that plan, the government said it planned to properly develop nuclear power, a word representing that nuclear power is not prioritized.

But nationwide power supply shortage and the new leadership's blueprint for developing a well-off society are causing authorities to lean towards developing nuclear power, said Duan Yibing, a policy researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Science Policy and Management.

Power companies in 19 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions recently turned off supplies, temporarily, to factories to ensure residents had electricity.

The State Grid Corp predicts China, in the next three years, could have a power shortage of 20 million kilowatt-hours per year.

That would be roughly the equivalent of the annual growth in power supply between 2001 and 2005.

China's annual electricity consumption by 2020 is expected to reach 800 million kilowatts. The nation's current power generating capacity is 350 million kilowatts.

Experts estimate new thermal and water power plants could generate about 400 million kilowatts, while nuclear plants generate about 40 million kilowatts.

China's nuclear power stations, including those being constructed, are capable of generating a combined 8.7 million kilowatts.

"NDRC will definitely ratify the four, and maybe more, nuclear power projects," Duan told China Business Weekly.

"Its current cautious attitude is just to make involved parties, including environmental experts, in these projects to conduct more thorough investigations and evaluations."

Even with NDRC's approval, several problems still hamper development of nuclear power.

For starters, there is a huge psychological shadow. Nuclear power will remain a threat until China develops its own, low-cost nuclear waste processing methods, Duan said.

China presently relies on imported nuclear waste processing technologies and facilities. That could result in chaos for handlers of the spent nuclear materials.

"When China has 20 or 30 nuclear power stations, instead of the current eight, waste processing will become troublesome," Duan said.

The high costs of generating and transporting nuclear power pose additional challenges.

Nuclear power currently wholesales for 0.414 yuan (5 US cents) per kilowatt hour in Zhejiang Province. In Guangdong Province, it wholesales for 0.54 yuan (6.5 US cents).

Thermal electricity in Zhejiang wholesales for 0.3 yuan (3.4 US cents) per kilowatt hour.

Construction costs tend to push up the price of nuclear power, nuclear power stations tend to having longer - by at least 30 years - life spans.

Also, daily consumption of nuclear power generation is very low, said Chen Shuyun, a senior engineer with China National Nuclear Corp.

New nuclear power stations could reduce construction costs by relying on existing facilities that have developed nuclear power plants.

Duan suggests government officials should negotiate with major foreign nuclear companies to reduce prices of imported equipment.

Very few countries are developing new nuclear power stations, and major international nuclear power contractors, such as France-based Alstom and Germany-based Siemens are craving new contracts.

"Therefore, we are in an advantageous position," Duan said.

(Business Weekly 09/02/2003 page8)

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