The Future of China's Nuclear Industry

Emily Koufakis
March 25, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: The existing, operating nuclear power plants in Tianjin, China. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Historically, China has rejected nuclear energy expansion due to the views of its leadership. However, given its high-energy demands and environmental concerns, the country has turned to a nuclear alternative. Over the next decade, China plans to spend over $500 billion building more than 60 nuclear power plants. By almost tripling its nuclear capacity, China will lead global nuclear expansion in terms of total installed capacity. Fig. 1 shows the existing nuclear plants in Tianjin, China. To help reduce reliance on coal, which accounts for over half of China's power generation, the country has firmly committed to boosting nuclear power because nuclear plants are in principle "clean operations." [1] Above all, many have raised concerns about whether China is capable of managing such nuclear expansion, and more importantly, operating the stations safely.

Plans for Expansion and Innovation

Currently, The China State Nuclear Power Technology Company is in the process of choosing between three vendors for expansion: France, Russia and the United States. [2] Despite the considerations of other nations, China aims to represent a total generating capacity ranging from 47,000-52,000 megawatt-electrical (MWe) throughout the 16 provinces and regions. [2] Moreover, China intends to accumulate all of the "design basis information from the vendors" to enable self-sufficiency in engineering for the future. [2] As of today, some technology transfers have occurred in China, such as the manufacturing of nuclear fuel for the "Daya Bay plants under a French license." [2] Most importantly, China lacks such qualified individuals to manage the expansion they have planned for. This calls for 13,000 new university graduates who have expertise in the nuclear industry, according to the Commission on Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense. In order to alleviate such inadequacy and gain professionals, the Guangdong Nuclear Power Company is implementing special university programs for the expansion. Above all, for the nuclear expansion to be considered, the State Planning Committee needs to approve the building of a new nuclear plant, and local utilities must give the consent as well. Lastly, new plants must be economically viable, thus financing must be allocated from both private and government sources. [2]


As previously mentioned, China's safety culture and capability of maintaining a secure nuclear operating system is the most important aspect of all. Due to the number of casualties and injuries in China's coal mining industry, inspections by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) are imperative. [2] Using a global premise, the "WANO inspections provide the Chinese operators with an assessment of how their operations compare to other nuclear power plants in the world." [2] In other words, such inspections demonstrate that the nuclear plant operations are in accordance with global expectations and protocols. Currently, the Chinese reactors have shown no abnormal releases of radioactivity or other events that have threatened the safety and health of the people. There continues to be operational events, consisting of handling the "station transformers, fuel handling machine, and electrical systems that were effectively managed by the plant staff with regulatory oversight." [2]


Perhaps China's plans for expansion and innovation of nuclear power is alarming, since even a minute accident could threaten the lives of individuals across the country. The technology has only been tested a handful of times, and although the Chinese government is capable of putting forth such an immense plan for the future, Western democracies are more strict with the implementation of nuclear power. Certainly, China has the chance to prove that nuclear power can be advantageous, practical and safe; and it also has the chance to prove otherwise.

© Emily Koufakis. 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] P. Robert, "Slow Reaction: China's Building Nuclear Industry," Bulletin de Sinologie, No. 51, 13 (1989).

[2] A. C. Kadak, "Nuclear Power: 'Made in China'," Brown Journal of World Affairs 13, No. 1, 77 (2006).