Nuclear reactors are powering China’s energy transition

China’s reliance on nuclear reactors to keep the lights on continues to increase exponentially as the nation grapples with unprecedented power shortages.

New data from the China Energy Portal shows a 12.3% increase in nuclear power production on China’s mainland during the 3rd quarter of 2021, compared to the previous corresponding quarter.

This follows a 23% increase in the second quarter.

The growth in nuclear power production in Q3 2021, vs Q3 2020, is greater than that of thermal (which includes coal, gas, oil and biomass) (+11.9%), Hydro (-0.9) and solar (+10.2). Only wind energy production recorded stronger growth than nuclear over the past three months.

All but one of the nation’s 51 nuclear reactor units was operating at full capacity throughout September.

“Nuclear power has played the key role in stabilizing the grid and dealing with the extreme external conditions,” Zhao Chengkun, former director of China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration, recently told Chinese state media.

Nuclear reactors
Source: China Energy Portal

The rise of nuclear energy in China

Over the past decade, the Chinese Government has become increasingly positive on nuclear energy.

While debate rages about the storage of waste, the carbon-free base-load power generated by nuclear reactors has become very attractive to a nation trying desperately to reduce its dependence on high carbon-emitting coal-fired power stations.

Nuclear china

The 51 nuclear reactors dotted across China provide the country with an installed nuclear energy capacity of 53.26 million kilowatts.

And that’s soon to increase significantly.

There are 18 reactors currently under construction across China and 37 in the planning phase.

In the next five years authorities have stated intentions to have at least 20 more nuclear reactors connected to power grids, which will see the nation’s nuclear capacity increase by at least 22.69 million kilowatts.

This aligns with the Chinese Communist Party’s 14th five-year plan, released earlier this year, which outlines a goal for the nation’s nuclear power capacity to reach 70 million kilowatts by 2025.

Looking even further into the future, Bloomberg has recently estimated that China is on track to spend $440 billion on nuclear power generation projects over the next 15 years. This is based on analysis of Government announcements and documents which show proposals for at least 150 new nuclear reactors.

For context, that’s more than the total amount of nuclear reactors built across the entire world in the past 35 years.

Recent nuclear reactor developments in China

The most significant addition to Chinese nuclear capacity this year has been the first Hualong One unit, located in the Fujian Province.

It was connected to the grid in January.

At the commissioning of the unit, Chinese authorities stated that the electricity output from the facility would reduce coal consumption by 3.12 million tonnes and subsequently prevent the emission of 8.16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

Each unit of Hualong One has an annual capacity of 1.16 million kilowatts and is said to be able to provide energy for up to one million Chinese residents.

Also during 2021, Asia Markets has recorded the following updates from Chinese authorities on nuclear reactor construction projects:

  • 23 March: Construction commenced on two more Hualong One units at the Changjiang nuclear power plant in the Hainan province.
  • 19 April: Loading of the first group of fuel assemblies into unit 6 at China National Nuclear Corporation’s Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in the Jiangsu province – marking the commissioning stage of the reactor.
  • 13 July: Construction commenced on a multi-purpose small modular reactor at the Changjiang Nuclear Power Plant in Hainan Province. This will be the world’s first commercial onshore small modular reactor.
  • 21 August: Fuel loading commenced on the first unit of the world’s first pebble-bed modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactor nuclear power demonstration project in the Shandong province.
  • 24 August: Bridge installed on the polar crane for unit 1 of the Zhangzhou nuclear power plant in East China’s Fujian province.
  • 12 September: The first criticality achieved in a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor project in Shandong province following the completion of cold and hot functional tests at the plant’s two reactors, as well as its first fuel loading.
Nuclear reactors
This hoisting of a bridge of the polar crane for unit 1 of the Zhangzhou nuclear power plant is carried out using a 3,200-ton crawler crane (Image: China National Nuclear Corporation).

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