Recent Developments in Chinese Nuclear Energy

Bryan Li
March 12, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016


Fig. 1: Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant, located in Zhejiang, China.(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

China's policy on nuclear power plants has been experiencing rapid changes and developments in the recent past. In response to a rapidly industrializing population, China became the largest global energy consumer in 2011. [1] Currently China is the world's most populous country, with a population exceeding 1.36 billion and a rapidly growing economy, which are two major factors in driving energy demands upwards. [1] In response to the growing needs of its populations, China has placed large investments in plans for utilizing nuclear energy for the future, with plans to build more nuclear reactors than anywhere in the world. [2]

Nuclear Power

Following the meltdowns of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011, many countries around the world slowed down developments in the nuclear power industry. [2] According to Jiang Kejun, a director at the Energy Research Institute at the National Development and Reform Commission, the government had a target of 50 gigawatts of nuclear power in 2015. [2] Jiang and other Chinese officials agree that nuclear power is necessary in order to fuel China's rapidly increasing electricity demands. [2] One major appeal of nuclear energy for Chinese officials is that unlike sources such as wind and solar energy, which can have large-scale storage issues, nuclear power is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to meet consistent demand. [2] In order to progress developments, China uses a variety of technologies from sources such as French, Russian, American and Chinese while building multiple reactors in conjunction. [2]

Technological Developments

China is additionally pursuing research in pebble-bed nuclear reactors in order to find more efficient methods of energy production. [3] Unlike conventional reactors that heat water, pebble-bed reactors heat gas. [3] Chinese engineers have decided to use conventional steam turbines, such as those found in fossil fuel power plants, for these pebble-bed reactors. [3] The hot gas from the reactor is used to heat water-filled coils that produce steam to spin the turbines. [3] One issue with this method is that heat is lost in the transfer from the gas to the water, making the overall process less efficient. [3] One benefit of using a pebble-bed reactor is the abundance of passive safety features present that allow the core to cool down in the case of an error occurring. [3] If China can make these reactors sufficiently cost-effective, these pebble-bed reactors could be an alternative to conventional power plants. [3]

Other technologies being pursued by China include floating nuclear power plants that can sail from site to site to provide power for specific needs. [4] China's strategy of being the largest nuclear energy technology exporting requires high levels of scientific diversity in order to capture all portions of the nuclear market. [4] Benefits of floating power plants in include low environmental impact as well as portability. [4] Some drawbacks include additional consideration that nuclear material doesn't enter the ocean as well as considerations for personnel and equipment access. [4]

© Bryan Li. 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] "China: International Energy Data and Analysis," U.S. Energy Information Administration, 14 May 15.

[2] K. Bradsher, "China Marches On With Nuclear Energy, in Spite of Fukushima," New York Times, 10 Oct 11.

[3] K. Bradsher, "Pressing Ahead Where Others Have Failed," New York Times, 24 Mar 11.

[4] J. Conca, "China Plans A Floating Nuclear Power Plant," Forbes, 18 Jan 16.