Climate goal demands huge boost in Chinese nuclear

31 October 2018

China's nuclear generating capacity must increase to 554 GWe by 2050 if the country is to fulfill its part in meeting a proposed target of limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5°C, according to a study by the National Development and Reform Commission's Energy Research Institute.

The Tianwan nuclear power plant in China (Image: AtomStroyExport)

The Paris Climate Change Agreement, which entered into force in November 2016, aims to limit the global temperature rise to below 2°C by 2100. The agreement also aims to drive efforts to limit temperature increases to below 1.5°C.

Researchers at China's Energy Research Institute analysed the nuclear power capacity needed in the country by 2050 to realise the 1.5°C target, as well as the feasibility, necessary measures and difficulty. The results were published in Advances in Climate Change Research earlier this year.

China's nuclear power capacity will need to increase from 26 GWe in 2015 to 554 GWe in 2050, the study concluded. The share of nuclear power in country's energy mix would increase from 3% to 28% over this period.

The study noted that, up to the end of August 2017, 37 power reactors were in operation in China, with a combined generating capacity of 35,820 MWe. A further 19 reactors with an installed capacity of 22,140 were under construction.

An additional 290 reactors will need to be constructed in order to add a further 361.3 to 433.3 GWe of generating capacity, depending on the size of the reactors built.

"Only if the additional nuclear reactors all feature large capacities similar to CAP1400 in the future, and the annual uptime of nuclear power plants reaches 7500 hours, can the demand of the 1.5°C target for nuclear power in China be met narrowly."

To achieve this growth in nuclear generating capacity, new reactors must be built at a rate of ten per year up to 2046. China's three major equipment manufacturing bases currently have the capacity to supply 10-12 reactors annually, the study notes. However, the country's nuclear power plant construction capacity would need to double. In addition, the workforce required to operate nuclear power plants would also be ten-times the current size.

With regards to the cost of constructing up to 433.3 GWe of new nuclear capacity, the study says that assuming an "all-in cost" of CNY20,000 (USD2867) per kW, an investment of more than CNY8.7 trillion (USD1.3 trillion) will be required. Based on investment in new capacity over the past few years, the 2050 total investment demand is "feasible".

"If by 2050, around 21% of China's electricity is generated with nuclear energy, nuclear and renewable power will basically account for over 80% in the power mix," the report concludes. "In such context, total installed nuclear power capacity only needs to reach around 415 GWe, which is easy considering available site resources, nuclear power construction capacity, available funds, and the operation and management talents pool."

It added, "Such massive development also needs public acceptance, which in fact already affects the development of China's nuclear power and will have more impact in the future. Therefore, significant improvement of public acceptance has become an important work and must be carried forward across the country."

The Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission was established in 1980. It is a national research organisation conducting comprehensive studies on China's energy issues. The scope of research conducted by ERI covers the fields of energy production, distribution, and consumption. The main focus is on soft scientific studies in the fields of energy economy, energy efficiency, energy and the environment, and renewable energy.

A large increase in the use of nuclear power would help keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees, according to a United Nations report published earlier this month. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report - Global Warming of 1.5 degrees - was commissioned by governments at the Paris climate talks in 2015 and will inform the COP24 summit in Katowice, Poland this December.

The nuclear industry has set the Harmony goal for nuclear energy to provide 25% of global electricity by 2050. This will require trebling nuclear generation from its present level. Some 1000 GWe of new nuclear generating capacity will need to be constructed by then to achieve that goal.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News