As the world's fastest growing economy and the second largest energy consumer, China is looking more to nuclear power for a balanced mix of energy generating methods.
South China's Guangdong Province plans to have a gross production capacity of 24 gigawatts from nuclear power by the year 2020, according to provincial officials.
Last year Guangdong announced that it has selected 10 new sites for building nuclear power stations, four in western Guangdong, three in the northern region and the rest in eastern Guangdong. The projects are now awaiting central government approval, as preparation work has already begun on some of the sites.
China has become the third-biggest nuclear energy producer in Asia, after Japan and South Korea, according a 2006 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Nuclear power has become the third important method of electricity generation in China, following coal power and hydropower.
The country's nine completed nuclear power generating units now account for about 2.3 percent of the total power output of China. The nation plans to increase nuclear generating capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2020, when nuclear power is projected to account for 4 percent of the nation's total generating capacity.
"China has seen a transition for its nuclear power industry, from appropriate development to accelerated development," said Han Wenke, deputy director of the Energy Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission.
The State conglomerate for nuclear power, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), is playing an important role in developing the industry.
The company produced 22.68 billion kilowatt-hour of electricity in 2006, said Kang Rixin, the firm's general manager, adding that it has safely operated its first nuclear power plant, Qinshan, for 15 years.
This year another big project managed by the CNNC, the Tianwan nuclear power plant, will go into commercial use. Located in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, it is the largest cooperative project between China and Russia.
Last year CNNC also signed agreements in four provinces and six cities to develop nuclear projects, said Kang.
"We have signed agreements with Liaoning, Hebei, Shandong and Hunan provinces to develop nuclear projects, and we also agreed to develop projects in six cities in Hunan, Anhui and Guangdong provinces," said Kang.
Nuclear power is a natural choice for China, Kang said, as it means more balanced development of both the economy and environment.
As the world's second biggest generator of electric power, China's uneven geographical distribution of resources causes some difficulties.
"Coal, the main energy source in China, is mostly produced in the northern parts of the country and hydropower is mostly found in the Southwest, but power consumption is concentrated in the coastal regions in the east and south. As a clean energy, nuclear power is a good alternative for China," said Kang.
Apart from CNNC, other companies such as China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co Ltd, and the China Power Investment Corp have also taken an active part in the nation's nuclear sector.
Eight of the 11 existing nuclear power generating units in China, either in operation or under construction, have been imported from France, Canada and Russia.
Last year China and the United States signed an agreement which paves the way for US-based Westinghouse Electric Co to build four nuclear reactors in China.
Under the contract, Westinghouse's AP1000, a third- generation nuclear technology, will be used for four nuclear reactors, two in Sanmen, East China's Zhejiang Province, and another two in Yangjiang, South China's Guangdong Province.
However, China has placed great importance on the development of its own technology to build nuclear reactors. The CNP 1000 technology of CNNC will be used to build two 1,000-megawatt reactors in Fangjiashan, not far from the Qinshan project in East China's Zhejiang Province.
And China Huaneng Group, the nation's largest power company, also launched the construction of its first nuclear power plant using high temperature gas-cooled reactors.
Its Shidaowan plant, located in Rongcheng, East China's Shandong Province, will have an installed capacity of 200 megawatts and require an investment of 3 billion yuan. Seventy percent of the technology used in the project will be developed by China.
Huaneng has signed an agreement with China Nuclear Engineering & Construction (Group) Corp and Tsinghua University to set up a new company for the operation of the plant.
"The move is an important step for us in the development of China's nuclear power industry," said Li Xiaopeng, president of Huaneng.
(China Daily February 6, 2007)