Post Fukushima: Civilian Nuclear Power Development in China

Becca Levin
December 16, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2012


In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March 2011, many countries have re-evaluated their policy on nuclear power, backed away from further nuclear development. For example, Germany announced plans to phase out nuclear power completely by 2022. [1] Japan aims to eliminate nuclear by the 2030s. [2] Progress on the proposed new nuclear plants in the United States has moved more slowly, and nuclear power even became a central issue in the French elections, a country where nuclear has long been the dominant power source. [3,4] China faces a different starting point than these countries, whose share of nuclear power before the disaster ranged from 20% to 78%, because nuclear reactors supplied less than 2% of China's power as of 2011. [5] This paper examines the Chinese policy towards nuclear power and current development of its nuclear industry.

Chinese Nuclear Power Policy Post-Fukushima

After the Fukushima disaster, China declared a moratorium on new power plant construction, while the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) conducted a safety review of the 41 operating and under-construction nuclear reactors. Released in March 2012, the report concluded that most of the Chinese nuclear industry is operating safely. The report also found 14 problems and measures to address these problems, without disclosing detail on the nature of the safety problems. To date, China has not had any safety problems with its reactors above INES level two (on a seven-point scale). [6,7] In late October 2012, China released a new energy policy document, lifting the moratorium and reaffirming China's commitment to nuclear power. [8]

The policy sets a near term target to increase China's nuclear capacity to 40GW by 2015 (reduced from the previous target of 50GW). [8] Under this plan, nuclear power would account for approximately 3.5% of China's forecasted generating capacity in 2015. [9] Given the shift away from building new nuclear plants in many other countries, China's continued commitment to building new nuclear power plants makes it the biggest customer for nuclear power plant construction. As of the end of 2011, there were 65 reactors under construction worldwide, including both new plants and refurbishments. Of these, 26 reactors, 40% of the total, are located in China. [5] China currently plans to build four Westinghouse AP1000 Gen III+ nuclear reactors, following which China aims to develop its own Chinese version CAP1400. [10]

Status of China's Nuclear Industry

China currently produces approximately one-third of the uranium for its reactors domestically, one-third from overseas Chinese-owned exploration and one-third from imports. [11] Currently, China imported uranium from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Namibia and Australia in 2010. [12] This summer, Canada approved a policy to allow Canadian companies to export uranium to China. [13] Due in part to its limited domestic uranium supplies, China has stated a policy goal to use closed cycle with reprocessing. China has entered into research and pilot efforts for reprocessing, but does not currently operate a commercial scale reprocessing facility. [11]

Most of the Chinese nuclear fleet was built during the 1990-2000s using French, American, Canadian and Russian reactor technologies. The majority of the plants are pressurized water reactors (PWR), but China also has two heavy water reactors (HWR). [11] Over the course of developing and constructing these reactors, China has gained significant technology experience with the goal of eventually localizing the manufacturing and construction process.

Currently, high-level waste is stored on site, while China develops a long-term centralized storage solution. In 1986, five potential sites for high-level waste were identified. In 2007, the State Council approved selection of the Beishan area in the Gobi desert of northwest China. Further site characterization and selection efforts are currently underway. [11,14]


Under its current energy policy, China has set a goal to achieve a 40-45% reduction in CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), and plans to instruct utilities to source up to 15 percent of electricity from non-fossil sources. [15,16] To achieve these goals, the Chinese government has decided that nuclear power should be an increasing part of the energy mix. Despite concerns over nuclear power as a result of the Fukushima disaster, the Chinese government has decided to stick with a strategy that includes nuclear.

© Becca Levin. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. Dempsey and J. Ewing, "Germany, in Reversal Will Close Nuclear Power Plants by 2022," New York Times, 30 May 11.

[2] T. Inajima, T. Hirokawa and Y. Okada, "Japan Draws Curtain on Nuclear Energy Following Germany," Bloomberg, 14 Sep 12.

[3] K. Schwartz, "Delays, Cost Increases at Nation's New Nuclear Projects," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 13 Jul 12.

[4] L. Moriarty, "French Sour on Nuclear Power," Public Radio International, 24 Apr. 12.

[5] "Nuclear Power Reactors in the World, 2012 Ed.," Intl. Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA-RDS-2/31, June 2012.

[6] P. Ford, "China's Nuclear Power Plant Review: 'Problems in 14 Areas' Found," Christian Science Monitor, 12 Mar 12.

[7] Y. Zhou, China Responds to Fukushima," Bull. Atomic Sci., 28 Jun 12.

[8] K. Bradsher, China Slows Development of Nuclear Power Plants, New York Times, 24 Oct 12.

[9] "International Energy Outlook 2011," U.S. Energy Information Administration, DOE/EIA-0484(2011), September 2011.

[10] L. Hornby, "China AP1000 Nuclear Plant on Track After Delay - Xinhua," Reuters, 15 Jan 12.

[11] Y. Zhou, "China's Spent Nuclear Fuel Management: Current Practices and Future Strategies," Energy Policy 39, 4360 (2011).

[12] J. Yang, "China Increases Uranium Imports," Wall Street Journal, 21 Jan 11.

[13] C. Wheeler, "Canada Gears Up for China Uranium Exports," Toronto Globe and Mail, 21 Sep 012.

[14] J. Wang, "High-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal in China" Update 2010," J. Rock Mech. Geotech. Eng. 2, 1 (2010).

[15] J. Qiu, "China's Climate Target: Is it Achievable?," Nature 462, 550 (2009).

[16] C. Zhu, "China Pushes Wind Power but No Quick Payoff for Producers," Reuters, 9 Sep 12.