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Why power-hungry China is betting on nuclear energy

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China is well on its way to reaching its carbon reduction goals ahead of time after years of structural economic change that emphasised shifting to low-carbon hi-tech sectors. A recent study suggested that China’s carbon dioxide emissions may have peaked in 2013 and have seen a steady decline since. As Beijing aims to wean its economy off coal, other energy sources have been expanded, most prominently nuclear power.

In early June, China National Nuclear Corporation reached two deals with its Russian counterpart Rosatom for four nuclear power units at the Xudabao and Tianwan plants. The deals, which feature cutting-edge reactors, showcase China’s determination to achieve its goal of doubling nuclear capacity by 2040, even if this requires importing technology.

China is the world’s largest consumer and producer of primary energy, and discussions about its energy sector often portray a stark choice between fossil fuels (especially coal) and renewables, a dichotomy that overlooks a key facet of Beijing’s energy strategy – nuclear power.

Given the pressing need to curb its massive coal consumption and upgrade inadequate grid infrastructure to support the expansion of wind and solar energy, China has been zealously improving its nuclear power capacity.

However, realities on the ground have frustrated Beijing’s nuclear ambitions, as persistent industry and technical bottlenecks plague existing plants. Safety concerns and cost overruns are the most common problems. In February, the Westinghouse-designed AP1000 nuclear reactor in Zhejiang province yet again postponed the start of full operations after a series of delays, including a particularly serious issue in March 2017 when........

© South China Morning Post