Potential, value of China's nuclear power should not be overlooked

By Lin Boqiang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/4 22:53:40

Potential, value of nuclear power could be huge

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

Although the development of nuclear power is controversial and has become somewhat stagnant worldwide, the potential of Chinese nuclear power development should be a source of optimism. Recently, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said that China is expected to surpass the US as the world's largest nuclear power developer by 2030.

According to Birol, the US has been a global leader in nuclear power since the 1960s, and the recent rise in China's nuclear status is partly due to the fact that other countries have backed off in the field. In addition, I think the vast market brought by potential domestic electricity demand along with unrelenting technical exploration and capital investment also matters.

The safety concerns are inextricably linked with the slowdown or cessation of nuclear power development in numerous countries. After all, the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan in 2011 was a great setback in the world's nuclear power development. Subsequently, France announced a reduction of nuclear power in its overall energy structure. The UK and the US are not as positive as before toward nuclear energy.

In this kind of international atmosphere, there have been more and more discussions about whether China's huge investment in nuclear power is worthwhile. In response, it can be said that among the clean energies available at present, nuclear power is the only one that can replace coal to provide stable electricity on a large scale.

Although currently the utilization of nuclear power generation is relatively low, the contribution of one unit of installed nuclear power is still equal to nearly four units of photovoltaic power. At the same time, nuclear power is actually cleaner than wind energy, given the lack of upstream manufacturing contamination.

Nuclear power is clearly of great importance to China, which is undergoing a clean energy transition. In my opinion, if the safety problem can be controlled well, the investment in nuclear power development will definitely be worthwhile.

In fact, the safety problem is one of minor issues. I am afraid no one can guarantee 100 percent safety. However, China's nuclear power operation is highly safe. Third generation nuclear power technology has a lower accident rate than second generation, and the nuclear power safety problem has been minimized in China.

Due to the importance of safety, there are multiple security barriers in the design of nuclear power stations. Only when all barriers are destroyed in turn, can people and the environment be threatened. This probability is extremely small, and not all nuclear accidents would cause a severe radioactive leak.

The safety design has also taken man-made or natural disasters into account, including sabotage and war. The structures, systems and equipment at nuclear power plants are strictly designed so that the stations can still maintain basic safety even if these incidents happen.

The government has always attached the greatest importance to this issue. Enterprises developing nuclear power have also been cautious, because they know very well that if the safety problem is not handled properly, one nuclear power problem could destroy the entire industry. Therefore, they are actually more cautious about the safety issue than we might imagine.

The issue of nuclear waste disposal is indeed very important and must be solved. However, the reason why this issue has not had greater prominence is that the proportion of nuclear power usage in China is pretty small at present, so large-scale disposal is not yet needed. Also, along with the development of nuclear power, better solutions will gradually be worked out.

Regarding concerns about the cost of nuclear power, the earnings should also be considered when we are measuring the cost involved. If the plants run for decades, with years of profit, there would be a constant source of funding for the whole process.

What's more, compared with other energies such as wind energy, the processing costs for nuclear power are not actually that great. Therefore, understanding of the cost of nuclear power should be more rational.

It cannot be ignored that China's nuclear power development is facing a number of challenges, including the safety issue, inadequate public understanding and a lack of independent innovation. The third generation nuclear power plants are under pressure from the long construction period and increasing construction costs, and the fourth generation is only in its infancy. However, China's potential for nuclear power development is huge and the value of nuclear power also deserves recognition.

The author is director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University. bizopinion@globaltimes.com.cn
Newspaper headline: Potential, value of nuclear power could be huge

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