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Reflection over the nuclear power fever in China

Since Zhang Huazhu, director of China Atomic Energy Authority, announced that the Chinese Government has formulated policies to expedite the development of nuclear power generation in early September, numerous heavyweights including Canadian Minister of Natural Resources John Efford, French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Putin and US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Nils Diaz have come to China. Although their visits were paid in various names, it is obvious that the major nations are coveting China's US$40 billion nuclear power market over the next sixteen years.

However, when there are still less than two months before China calls for bids for its four new nuclear power units project at the end of this year, it is unknown yet how much the slew of diplomatic maneuvers of the major nuclear power nations will affect the final decision to be made by China's top leaders. Industry experts pointed out that before broad consensus is reached on certain basic issues of nuclear power China should not hastily launch nuclear power projects.

At present, China has eight nuclear power stations, with 15 nuclear power units, nine of which are in operation, two are under construction, and four have been approved by the State Council. Last year, nuclear power output came to an accumulated total of 43.8 billion kilowatt-hours in China, accounting for 2.29 percent of the country's total power output. Yet China's installed capacity of nuclear power accounts for merely 1.8 percent of its total installed generation capacity, and it takes up less than the world average, 10 percent.

It can be seen that China is still in the primary stage as far as nuclear power generation is concerned. The nationwide power shortage, which set in last year, undoubtedly became the blasting fuse for the new round of nuclear power development. It is learned in sixteen years China's installed capacity of nuclear power will hit 36 million kilowatts, taking up 4 percent in the total installed generation capacity.

Industry insiders warned that nuclear power generation involve long construction cycle (usually 5-7 years) and heavy investments (usually some $1,500 per kilowatt). For a country with abundant coal and waterpower resources, it is not an economically well-advised idea to develop nuclear power too much too fast.

The two decades during which China develops nuclear power precisely coincide the period nuclear power security rivets worldwide attention. As a result, Chinese nuclear power stations are currently among the generally recognized most secure ones in the world. Data shows that the at present the quantity of nuclear radiation in the areas within ten kilometers around Qinshan and Dayawan Nuclear Power Stations is only half of national standard. Over the years, the two stations have not caused harmful effect on the local natural environments and the residents' health.

Nevertheless, the concern over nuclear power security that is generally shared by people in the industry is whether China will forfeit the dominance over nuclear power security as it speeds up the development of nuclear power and the composition of investors diversifies (foreign investment and possible participation by private enterprises). China's nuclear power security system will also become relatively vulnerable as the number of completed nuclear power stations rises. This will add to potential troubles to the nuclear power security, which is of vital importance indeed.

Finally, a critical question is whether China can quickly grasp the core technology in the world's nuclear power field in the new upsurge of nuclear power development?

In fact, we have had profound lessons in this aspect. Over the past two decades, China has spent nearly $10 billion in the field of nuclear power. However, it just purchased some colossal nuclear power equipment, while the core technology of nuclear power is always in the grip of foreign countries. Just like introducing other industries, without the core technology, the Chinese will never truly maneuver freely in this industry.

At present, major nuclear power nations are loosening government regulation in civilian nuclear power fields. Even the United States, which has a dread for nuclear, recently issued export licenses in the name of the state to commercial companies that produce civilian nuclear facilities in a bid to encourage American enterprises to take hold of the world nuclear power market. This trend precisely offers an historic opportunity for China to grasp core technology of nuclear power.

What is worth mentioning is that as major nuclear power nations like the U.S., Canada, France and Russia scramble for China's nuclear power market, we the Chinese should make the best of our wisdom to make breakthroughs while gaining the core technology.

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