China has made significant strides with its nuclear power technology development, making it a leader in the field and at the forefront of civilian nuclear technology. This significant advancement comes as climate change has led to a resurgence in nuclear power, following concerns about the use of fossil fuels and their impact on the environment.
On Wednesday, China announced that it had become the first country in the world to put the latest generation of nuclear power technology into service. This major milestone was marked by the commercial operation of a power plant with two new reactors in the eastern province of Shandong. These power plants use fourth-generation reactors, which are considered safer and more fuel-efficient by an international coalition of nuclear powers.
Francois Morin, the China director of the World Nuclear Association, praised the new reactors, stating that they put China ahead of other countries in nuclear technology research and development. This position and pursuit of fourth-generation reactors have positioned China well ahead of Western countries, which are not expected to start launching their own fourth-generation nuclear power plants until the early 2030s.
Despite concerns stemming from incidents such as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, other countries have been turning back to nuclear energy, driven by the need for emissions-free and reliable sources of electricity to combat climate change. The United States and more than 20 other countries recently announced plans to triple nuclear power generation by 2050. Moreover, Europe and Japan have made strides in restarting or starting up nuclear reactors, while private companies are also developing projects for small modular reactors.
China provides significant motivation for its investment in nuclear power having committed to weaning itself off coal to achieve its aim of net-zero emissions by 2060. With the construction of 22 out of 58 reactors worldwide and a total of 55 reactors in operation, China has already made significant headway in the nuclear power sector.
Furthermore, China’s latest nuclear power plant in Shandong was developed and constructed by Tsinghua University and two state-owned enterprises, and the technology utilized was mostly developed in China. Notably, the reactors’ use of gas to cool the reactor, along with passive safety systems, significantly reduces the risk of harmful consequences in the event of an accident.
China is also pursuing international opportunities, aiming to become an exporter of civilian nuclear technology. The country reportedly seeks to build Saudi Arabia’s first civilian nuclear power plant, with an offer that is at least 20% lower than those from South Korea and France.
The country’s advancements in nuclear technology also include small modular reactors, thorium-based molten salt experimental reactors, and fast breeder reactors built with Russia’s assistance. David Fishman, a senior manager at energy consultancy Lantau Group, noted that “China is the leader when it comes to actually building and commercializing next-generation nuclear power technology.”
China’s remarkable strides in nuclear technology could pave the way for a global shift towards cleaner and more efficient energy generation, further solidifying its position as a trailblazer in the field.