Moratorium no more for nuclear power

Updated: 2012-10-26 17:13

By Tom McGregor (

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Despite safety concerns, China has made the right decision to re-start construction of nuclear reactors. Boosting the nation's energy supply remains pivotal for sustaining long-term economic developments in the country.

Moratorium no more for nuclear power

China is already the world's largest energy consumer, but 70 percent of its power comes from coal. Li Zuojun, an economist at the Institute of Resources and Environmental Policies with the State Council's Development Research Center, expressed grave concerns over a nationwide dependency on coal.

"China's energy consumption is highly reliant on abundant coal, which leads to serious environmental problems."

The nation should encourage the production of more alternative sources of energy. Accordingly, it seemed that just a few years ago nuclear energy would become a crucial part of that solution.

Beijing officials had outlined a Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) to permit the construction of as many as 40 nuclear energy projects to dot the landscape in at least seven inland provinces.

The proposal sounded exciting, since it could reduce carbon emissions, and act as an efficient producer of electricity. Plants would hire many nuclear scientists and offer much-needed jobs for local residents at sites.

Nevertheless, the brilliant dream was shattered on March 2011, when a massive earthquake and tidal wave struck Japan and inflicted catastrophic damage on the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which ignited radioactive fallout in the region.

Excessive exposure to radiation can cause cancer, as well as physical deformities and birth defects. The Fukushima accident shocked the world, while numerous governments cancelled approvals for previously scheduled construction of new nuclear projects.

But nuclear power supporters claimed that governments were over-reacting since it is really a safe industry overall. What happened in Japan was a freak occurrence, in which two natural disasters struck the plant within hours, while the facility had avoided rigorous safety inspections shortly before the incident.

The accident taught an important lesson, which is safety must always come first. Hence, Beijing officials have decided to end its temporary moratorium on construction of nuclear power projects, but with a stipulation that safety is a priority.

"China will approve a small number of new nuclear reactors before 2015 to be built only in coastal regions, the government said on Wednesday, as it unveiled a raft of measures to spur private investments in energy," according to Reuters.

During a State Council meeting on Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao approved a national plan for nuclear power security (2011-20) and nuclear power developments (2011-20), as disclosed by Chinese media reports. All new nuclear reactors must comply with the most stringent international standards.

He Jiankun, director of the Institute of Low Carbon Economy at Tsinghua University, told China Daily, "nuclear power strikes a balance between an increasing thirst for energy and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy is irreplaceable."

A government white paper on energy policies released on Wednesday, said, "China's nuclear power generating capacity accounts for just 1.8 percent of its electricity, lower than the average 14 percent for countries that have nuclear power."

The figures seem small considering that China consumes so much energy. It's time for the nation to build more nuclear reactors.

Yes, it would be impossible to guarantee with 100 percent certitude that all nuclear reactors would be foolproof, and never susceptible to radioactive leaks in the future. But here's some comforting knowledge; the US and Europe have built numerous nuclear reactors that are currently operating and it's been a long time since any nuke accidents have occurred in the West.

We can expect Chinese energy officials to impose similar safety standards on nuclear reactors under its jurisdiction. So have no fear, nuclear energy deserves to play a greater role in the country.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.