Interview with Huang Wei, Minister Counsellor and Alternate to the Resident Representative at the Chinese Permanent Mission to IAEA.
Why is China's nuclear capacity growing so quickly?
If we take into account the average 10% gross domestic product growth rate in the past decade and the 7-8% growth rate forecast for the coming five years, energy demand will remain very high in China. Nuclear power emits no greenhouse gas emission, causes no air pollution, has low operational cost and is applicable on a large scale. It provides a reliable energy supply to sustain the rapid economic growth especially in the eastern and southern coastal areas of China, which used to rely heavily on fossil fuel.
After the Fukushima accident, the Chinese government carried out a comprehensive safety assessment of all nuclear power units in operation or under construction, which confirmed that all nuclear facilities meet advanced nuclear safety standards. Based on this outcome, the Chinese government made the decision that nuclear power will remain an important part of our national energy mix and formulated a new policy on "developing nuclear power in a safe and efficient manner".
Since then, construction of four new units started, including the first High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (HTGR), and five units started commercial operation. Currently, there are 20 units in operation with a total capacity of 17.86 GW, and 28 units are under construction with a total capacity of 30.41GW.
Nuclear power generation so far was predominantly present in Europe and North America. Is the world balance of nuclear power shifting towards Asia?
Looking at facts and figures in the expansion programmes of China, India and the Republic of Korea, plus new projects in several newcomer countries in this region, Asia is becoming the most dynamic area in terms of nuclear power development. The recent developments in Eastern Europe, Middle East and North America are also encouraging.
China is building power plants from many different designs. Is this a deliberate choice?
No, the current mix of nuclear technology in China is not based on any particular decision. Due to some historic reasons, such as financing, bilateral cooperation and others, different nuclear technologies from France, Russia, Canada and the USA were introduced in the past decades.
What does China do to ensure safe operation in light of such a variety of designs? Can you expand on your country's post-Fukushima safety assessment?
In the past decades, through national efforts and intensive international cooperation, China has developed and established a comprehensive and effective Nuclear Safety Regulatory and Nuclear Emergency Preparedness and Response infrastructure based on the IAEA Safety Standards to ensure that all projects in operation or under construction in China are strictly regulated and overseen.
Immediately after the Fukushima accident, the State Council of China called for a nationwide nuclear safety assessment and suspended the approval of new projects. In the meantime, the National Regulatory Body and the National Competent Authority have been given more resources to enable them to fulfil their duty. All nuclear power plants have upgraded their safety features based on the lessons learned from Fukushima.
In October 2012, the Assessment Report and Nuclear Safety Planning for the Mid-Long Term were approved by the State Council and the process to approve new projects resumed. All new projects must meet nuclear safety standards of third generation nuclear power technology.