Can China's nuclear plans fulfil government ambitions?

Using our China Gas and Power Service, we analyse plans to address environmental problems through nuclear power generation.

Air pollution in China has long been a source of concern for the country's major cities but, with coal demand continuing to rise, the government is now putting the development of clean energy options at the heart of its future strategy.

Key to these proposals is the wider use of nuclear power, which would help to reduce dependency on coal and also enhance energy security. As a result, the country is now aiming for 200 GW of installed capacity by 2030.

However, although nuclear growth within China is being accelerated, uncertainties remain and our analysis of the country's ability to finance, procure, construct and operate nuclear plants at a realistic pace has informed a more conservative estimate. 

Taking these domestic constraints into account, we expect an average of 6-8 units to be commissioned annually through to 2025 and 12-16 units per annum beyond, bringing total capacity to around 175GW by 2030.

The country's shortage of licensed reactor operators is one major obstacle to government targets. By 2030, a total of 80,000 nuclear professionals – equal to around 5,000 per year – would need to be recruited to build and operate the plants, posing challenges to the current education and professional training system.

More significantly, delays caused by China's nuclear safety review following the Fukushima disaster have caused all inland project approvals to be postponed to at least 2016.

In North America and France, nearly 80% of nuclear reactors are located adjacent to inland lakes or rivers, but China remains cautious about this aspect of its programme due to safety and contamination concerns.

Yet in spite of our comparatively moderate forecast, China will still manage to dominate global nuclear build, accounting for almost half of all greenfield nuclear capacity over the next 20 years.

This will drive world uranium demand and, due to China falling short of its 200 GW target, will have positive implications for thermal coal, resulting in an upside of over 60 mmtpa by 2025.

Whatever the outcome, it's clear we won't have to wait long before China has grown into a significant global nuclear force.

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