The State Council, China's cabinet, has given preliminary approval to the construction of four new multibillion-dollar nuclear power generators.
There will be two generators in Sanmen in East China's Zhejiang Province and another two in Lingdong, South China's Guangdong Province. Each generator will have a capacity of 1 million kilowatts.
The last time the government approved a new nuclear power plant was in 1997.
Many provinces are lobbying the State Council to build more plants to meet the increasing demand for electricity and to cash in on the lucrative business. Those interested include coastal provinces such as Fujian, Jiangsu and Shandong, and Hubei and Hunan provinces and Chongqing Municipality in the interior.
Under a long-term blueprint, the government hopes to raise the country's nuclear power generating capacity to four times its current level by 2020, reaching between 32 million and 40 million kilowatts. This would help increase the proportion of nuclear power to between 4 and 5 per cent of all electricity generated from the current 1.3 per cent.
Kang Rixin -- deputy general manager of the China National Nuclear Corp, China's largest constructor of nuclear plants -- said: "The strained power supply has provided the nuclear power industry with unprecedented opportunities for development.''
Sixteen provinces and autonomous regions have suffered frequent blackouts this summer due to surges in consumption. To alleviate the strain on power grids, some local governments have even urged residents to raise the temperature setting of their air-conditioners to save electricity.
Kang said energy-hungry coastal regions lack coal, oil and gas to feed economic development, making locally built nuclear power desirable. The strict environmental policies in these economically booming regions also gives the upper hand to nuclear power, which is clean, reliable and economically feasible, he said.
According to Kang, the two generators in Lingdong will be close to four existing 1 million-kilowatt generators in Ling'ao and Dayawan. The Sanmen generators will be in Zhejiang, the same province as from Qinshan, where four nuclear power generators are already in operation and one is under construction.
The government is still studying the details of the projects.
But Kang said the government hopes construction can start before 2005 and that the generators can begin operations by the end of 2010.
To ensure that nuclear plants will be competitive, the government requires that investment be limited to no more than US$1,500 per kilowatt, compared with US$2,000 per kilowatt at the Dayawan plant -- China's first foreign-funded nuclear plant.
The government expects the new generators to be able to compete with local coal-fired power plants to sell electricity.
Nuclear plants are currently under government protection and free from competition. The price charged for nuclear power is much higher than that for energy produced by coal-fired plants because the government wants to help nuclear plants recoup the huge amount of investment.
Eight nuclear power generators already operate in China. Three more generators are under construction.
Kang said the government will require those in charge of the new generators to "mainly rely on our own strength, while seek foreign co-operation at the same time.
"Only by depending on ourselves can we acquire key technology and gain leverage in bargaining with foreign countries.''
Yang Qi -- director of the China Nuclear Power Research Institute, one of the three nuclear power research institutes in the nation -- urged the government to put more trust in Chinese designs.
He also said it is imperative that China hammer out a long-term development plan for the nuclear industry.
(China Daily August 8, 2003)