China tacitly permits resumption of new N plants' construction
Beijing: The Chinese government has tacitly begun granting permissions for the resumption of construction of several new nuclear power plants that were halted after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, a report in the official media here said.
The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection has been giving environmental clearance to nuclear facilities extensively since September this year, state-run Global Times reported on Thursday.
The clearances included granting of certificates to some 778 people to work at nuclear facilities after passing nuclear safety examinations, it said.
Han Xiaoping, chief information officer of energy research portal china5e.Com, told the daily that the information can be interpreted as a sign that nuclear programmes will be resumed in China, after being stalled in the aftermath of the Fukushima crisis in 2011.
The stock price of many nuclear-related companies saw a rise today.
According to the National Energy Administration, China has 15 nuclear reactors in operation with 26 more reactors under construction.
"There is a consensus in China that we should not give up on nuclear power," Gao Shixian, assistant director of the energy research institute under the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planning agency, told the newspaper.
Gao said China has only 15 reactors that are capable of producing a little over 10 million kilowatts of power.
"That volume accounts for only one per cent of China's annual energy production, which is incomparable to the nuclear power level in countries like France, Japan or Germany," Gao said.
Despite the decline in Europe and America, China plans to increase the volume of its nuclear power to 40 million kilowatts by 2015 and aims to double that number by 2020.
"China has great demand for energy, partly because it has the largest population in the world, and partly because of its growing economy," Gui Liming, a professor specialising in nuclear safety at Tsinghua University said.
"China does not have the capital to phase out nuclear plants at this moment," Gui said, citing the example of Germany, which turned to its neighbour France to buy energy after shutting down half its nuclear reactors last year.
Gui said if the government is able to keep the risk to a minimum level, which would be possible with improving technology, nuclear power plants may better serve the needs.
The nuclear safety plan published on Tuesday said all 15 reactors in China have been monitored under strict safety protocols and no accident above level two, defined as a failure of safety measures but without actual consequences, has ever occurred.
He Zuoxiu, a leading theoretical physicist who worked on China's first nuclear bomb, said that the "safety coefficient" provided by regulatory commissions are largely theoretical.
"If there is one thing we can learn from the Fukushima crisis, it is that you will never know where the problem comes from.
"We want to be 'absolutely' safe when dealing with nuclear facilities, and that's extremely difficult to achieve," he said.
The Ministry also issued a new nuclear safety approval to a group of key projects, including nuclear waste treatment plants and remodeling projects to improve the safety level of existing nuclear facilities which costs about USD 12.76 billion.
The plan also indicated that the mixed models of nuclear reactors imported from different countries complicated the safety protocols and emergency procedures and urged different nuclear facilities to pay more attention to safety regulations.