July 15, 2024

After Inspections, China Moves Ahead With Nuclear Plans

BEIJING — After taking a step back in the wake of Japan’s nuclear disaster this year, energy-hungry China is moving cautiously ahead with its ambitious nuclear energy program.

That is the message that Chinese officials have been giving to visiting environmental experts and local news media. According to a statement posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the vice minister, Li Ganjie, told a visiting delegation from the United States that China had completed an inspection of the country’s 13 nuclear power plants. The statement implied that the plants had passed the test, which was announced in April after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

By October, Mr. Li said, the ministry will have tested 28 plants under construction. Until those inspections are completed, he said, China will not approve the plants for operation.

The decision to move forward was not a surprise. With China’s energy demand estimated to be rising by 12 percent a year, the country’s leaders have declared nuclear power to be an important part of China’s energy future.

The government wants to have 100 plants operational by 2020.

“The fundamental issue for China is their demand for power is exceptional,” said James Maguire, a regional managing director of power construction at Aon Risk Solutions in Hong Kong. “Nuclear is an important part of the mix.”

Indeed, even during the Japanese crisis, China and other growing countries, like India, declared that they were moving ahead with their nuclear plans.

Although China has shown an impressive ability to develop new nuclear technologies, it still faces many challenges that its review may have ignored, said Thomas B. Cochran, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.

Some Chinese sites are near densely populated areas or the coast, where they may be susceptible to the sort of tsunami that hit the Japanese plant in March.

“In China’s case, they’ve got some serious problems to deal with, and they’re probably not going to deal with them,” Mr. Cochran said.

Less problematic, he said, is the issue of what to do with the used nuclear fuel. China stores its fuel at the sites of nuclear plants, as do most countries. But unlike Iran, another country with nuclear plants, China already has nuclear weapons, so few analysts are worried that it may reprocess the fuel and create weapons-grade plutonium, he said.

Shao Heng contributed research.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/17/world/asia/17china.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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