China Falling out of Love with Nuclear

April 2, 2019

Which, depending on how you look at it, is sort of inevitable, or a really frightening development.

Just finished a piece on “new” nuclear and its prospects.

MIT Technology Review (registration required):

Most beautiful wedding photos taken at a nuclear power plant” might just be the strangest competition ever. But by inviting couples to celebrate their nuptials at the Daya Bay plant in Shenzhen and post the pictures online, China General Nuclear Power (CGN), the country’s largest nuclear power operator, got lots of favorable publicity.

A year later, the honeymoon is over.

For years, as other countries have shied away from nuclear power, China has been its strongest advocate. Of the four reactors that started up worldwide in 2017, three were in China and the fourth was built by Beijing-based China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) in Pakistan. China’s domestic nuclear generation capacity grew by 24% in the first 10 months of 2018. 

The country has the capacity to build 10 to 12 nuclear reactors a year. But though reactors begun several years ago are still coming online, the industry has not broken ground on a new plant in China since late 2016, according to a recent World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

Officially China still sees nuclear power as a must-have. But unofficially, the technology is on a death watch. Experts, including some with links to the government, see China’s nuclear sector succumbing to the same problems affecting the West: the technology is too expensive, and the public doesn’t want it.

The 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant shocked Chinese officials and made a strong impression on many Chinese citizens. A government survey in August 2017 found that only 40% of the public supported nuclear power development. 

The bigger problem is financial. Reactors built with extra safety features and more robust cooling systems to avoid a Fukushima-like disaster are expensive, while the costs of wind and solar power continue to plummet: they are now 20% cheaper than electricity from new nuclear plants in China, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Moreover, high construction costs make nuclear a risky investment.


7 Responses to “China Falling out of Love with Nuclear”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    The National Party had planned to cancel or shut down a bunch of coal plants, then a new policy of letting regional governments make their own power decisions brought coal plants back. 😦

  2. doldrom Says:

    China is pursuing a variety of nuclear generation designs, partly to gain expertise and experience, partly to pilot which (future) designs are better. New designs with passive cooling are not just extra features, but are also very different power plants, in which much of earlier designs is left out, making it possible (in theory) to construct better and more efficient plants. The discussion of nuclear power is always marred by treating all possibilities as basically the same general thing and leaving all sorts of specifics aside.

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    Ho-hum—-fear, ignorance, and “economics” (read greedy capitalism) once again rule the day. (And Chucky again posts one of his redundancies that educates no one)

  4. redskylite Says:

    Depends what source you read to understand China’s Nuclear program. Some sources indicate they are still in love with NP.

    China to build six to eight nuclear reactors a year to meet 2030 development goals.

  5. redskylite Says:

    If we could learn only one big lesson from the utter climate chaos we have got ourselves into in the 21st century, through our industrial revolution, that would be do not put all your eggs in one basket. Before fossil fuelled ICE’s took off, electric motor powered machines, even hydrogen expertise was developing well, but we allowed unbridled capitalism and some corruption to drop these promising alternative developments and concentrate solely on unearthing fossils for fuel.

    We need to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of yesteryear and think ahead a long, long way ahead, spreading the risks with a mix of altenatives.

    Nuclear is very expensive, but is there for large demand centralized service providers to take up if no other lower cost/risk/ghg emitting alternative exists, and centralization is the way we decide to go. In many other fields we swing between central and distributed services.

    This summary from the Union of Concerned. . . .

    “After World War II unleashed nuclear power, the government looked for a home for “the peaceful atom.” They found it in electricity production. Over 200 nuclear power plants were planned across the country, and homes were built with all-electric heating systems to take advantage of this power that would be “too cheap to meter.”

    This from the World Nuclear Industry Organization:

    “No industry is immune from accidents, but all industries learn from them. In civil aviation, there are accidents every year and each is meticulously analysed. The lessons from nearly one hundred years’ experience mean that reputable airlines are extremely safe. In the chemical industry and oil-gas industry, major accidents also lead to improved safety. There is wide public acceptance that the risks associated with these industries are an acceptable trade-off for our dependence on their products and services. With nuclear power, the high energy density makes the potential hazard obvious, and this has always been factored into the design of nuclear power plants. The few accidents have been spectacular and newsworthy, but of little consequence in terms of human fatalities. The novelty value and hence newsworthiness of nuclear power accidents remains high in contrast with other industrial accidents, which receive comparatively little news coverage.”

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