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Scientific American: China Syndrome: Going Nuclear to Cut Down on Coal Burning

Author: David Biello
March 28, 2011


In the wake of the accident of Fukushima Daiichi, Davd Biello reports that China will temporarily pause its plan to build the most new nuclear reactors in the world, but it will not halt it.

Across the East China Sea, west of Japan and its ongoing crisis, sits the growing  Qinshan nuclear power plant, where four new pressurized-water reactors are under construction in addition to the five already operating on-site. The Qinshan addition is one of 20 new nuclear power plants undergoing construction or approved for construction in China today, part of a bid to increase the nuclear share of China's electricity-generating capacity from less than 2 percent to 5 percent. That means China is building nearly half of all the nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, according to the World Nuclear Association.

"Now in China we have 13 nuclear power reactors in operation," said Zhang Guobao, former vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission—the government agency charged with setting energy and industrial policy—via a translator during a visit to NDRC headquarters in Beijing this past November. "In comparison with countries like the U.S.A. and France, this number is very small, [but] we are first in the world in the construction of new nuclear reactors."

China's newly released five-year plan requires that China source 11.4 percent of its energy needs from other than fossil-fuel—at least 43 gigawatts of that to come from nuclear alone—up from slightly more than 8 percent now. Further, Chinese officials have announced plans to explicitly cap China's total energy use at four billion metric tons of coal-equivalent by 2015; they also have drafted a "New Energy Industry Development Plan" that would invest amore than $750 billion in "new energy," which includes nuclear, in the next decade.

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