Powering ahead: China shows the way in nuclear techology

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 November, 2015, 12:32am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 November, 2015, 12:31am

China is on track to become the world's biggest nuclear power by 2030, the year it has set as a deadline to bring the most advanced reactor ever developed to market.

Using clean energy to rid cities of the pollution caused by coal-fired plants is one driving force, but so, too, is the country's ambition to become the leading global exporter of nuclear technology.

Deals signed in recent weeks with Argentina, Britain, Romania and South Africa put that aspiration firmly into perspective. It is an aim that benefits the nation and its nuclear industry, but also helps countries meet their climate change obligations.

The 12-day UN climate change negotiations starting at the end of the month in Paris aim to put in place legally binding targets to cut the polluting emissions that are causing temperatures to rise. China, as the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and having cities with the worst air quality, has a key role to play.

A significant part of its strategy to meet its goals lies in nuclear power; under proposals laid out in the 13th five-year plan, it intends to add to the 27 operational reactors and another 24 under construction by building about seven more each year to 2030, by far the most ambitious programme in the world.

Construction has been streamlined to the point that each reactor takes five or so years to complete at a cost of US$2 billion, about a third of what Western firms can build them for.

That expertise puts China in a strong position to add nuclear technology to high-speed rail as its next great export.

The deals signed certainly point to that: Two reactors will be constructed over 18 years in Argentina for US$15 billion, a technical co-operation pact is in place to put China in the running to build eight reactors in South Africa and US$9.1 billion has been invested in a power station in southwest England.

The latter pact could lead to a controlling stake in another British power plant, which, if approved, could be the first one in the West that is Chinese-designed. Such high-profile contracts are a major promotion of China's technology and know-how.