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China Highlights Nuclear Innovation to Meet Climate Goals at IAEA Conference


Two AP1000 reactors at Sanmen nuclear power plant in China became operational in 2018. Nine more nuclear power reactors are under construction according to the IAEA Power Reactor Information System. (Photo: Sanmen Nuclear Power Co Ltd)

China’s initiatives to address climate change with nuclear power, including through the development of innovative reactor technologies, were the focus of an event held on the sidelines of the International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power yesterday. China is at the forefront of nuclear power expansion, leading the way in installed capacity as well as number of reactors under construction.

China has 48 nuclear power reactors in operation and nine under construction, according to the IAEA’s Power Reactor Information System (PRIS). It’s one of a handful of countries that has included nuclear power along with renewable energy sources in its nationally determined contribution (NDC) towards achieving the goals to limit global warning under the 2016 Paris Agreement. China is scaling up its low carbon energy capacity via sources including solar, wind and hydroelectric, with plans to have at least 53 GW(e) of installed nuclear power capacity by 2020.     

“The Chinese government is committed to reducing the carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65% compared with 2005 levels by 2030,” Kejian Zhang, Chairman of the China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA), said. “In 2018, China’s nuclear power generation amounted to 286.5 TWh, accounting for 15.83% of China’s non-fossil energy generation.” This is equivalent to avoiding the combustion of 88.24 million tonnes of standard coal and the emission of 230 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, 750 000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 650 000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides, he added.

Nuclear power currently provides about 4% of China’s electricity. However, as part of China’s plans to generate 20% of its electricity from non-fossil sources by 2030, nuclear power’s share is expected to rise to as much as 10% over the next decade.

In addition to scaling up its nuclear power capacity, China is developing new reactor technologies and exploring the potential for increased use of non-electric applications of nuclear power, including district heating and seawater desalination.

One such technology is a new reactor design known as the HTR-PM, a high temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR). Unlike currently deployed designs, which involve water cooling, the HTR-PM is cooled by helium and can reach temperatures of up to 750 degrees Celsius.

“The HTGR demonstration project with fourth generation technology has made steady progress, and this reactor will be capable of hydrolytic hydrogen production and high temperature process heat,” said Zhang. “We have also recently completed the preliminary design of a pool-type, low-temperature heat reactor, the DHR-400, which may be used for district heating.”

Work on a small modular reactor (SMR) design, the ACP-100, is also well underway, he added. SMRs are much smaller and more flexible than traditional nuclear reactors and could be deployed in remote regions with smaller needs for electricity.

China is also supporting the development of nuclear power programmes in other countries in order to help them achieve their sustainable development goals. Read more about this programme and the role of the IAEA in this article.

“Nuclear power has been a consistent source of low carbon electricity for decades, and utilizing its proven capabilitiescan help countries meet the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “As the largest energy producer, China recognizes nuclear power can help combat environmental problems, while also contributing to the country’s economy.”

This week’s conference, attended by over 500 people from more than 70 countries, is exploring a range of topics on how nuclear power can be used to mitigate climate change, including energy policies to meet climate targets and enhancing international cooperation and partnership in nuclear power deployment. Speakers include Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Liu Zhenmin, head of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).  

China’s initiatives to address climate change with nuclear power were the focus of an event held on the sidelines of the International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power on 8 October 2019. (Photo: M.Fisher/IAEA)

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