China official warns on "too fast" nuclear plans

QINGDAO, China (Reuters) - China may have to put the brakes on the construction of nuclear power plants to ensure the plants are safe, the country’s top energy planning official told reporters on Sunday.

Chinese workers leave the nuclear power plant in Qinshan, China's Zhejiang province in this June 10, 2005 file picture. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause/Files

Zhang Guobao, head of the National Energy Administration, warned of signs of “improper” and “too fast” development of nuclear power in some regions.

China had previously set a goal of 40 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity by 2020, which would entail building about two reactors a year.

Some government officials have suggested aiming for 60 to 70 GW, or 5 percent of total generating capacity. The expanded goal is driven in part by China’s $585 billion stimulus plan, put in place late last year to offset a collapse in export markets.

“We’d rather move slower and achieve less than incur potential safety concerns in terms of nuclear energy,” Zhang told reporters on the sidelines of the Sino-U.S. Energy Summit.

China will need to more than double the proportion of renewable energy in its total power generation in order to get 15 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, a target reiterated by President Hu Jintao during this week’s G20 meeting.

Of renewable energy sources, hydropower accounts for the biggest share, or 6 percent of China’s total primary energy mix. Nuclear makes up about 0.6 percent and other sources such as wind power and solar power account for a trivial proportion, Zhang said.

On Sunday, the company that built the Three Gorges hydropower dam said it planned to move into solar and wind power as part of a diversification drive, Xinhua news agency reported.

Despite the focus on renewables, China is also developing new hydrocarbon energy sources.

U.S. oil major ConocoPhillips on Sunday signed an memorandum of understanding with top Chinese oil firm CNPC to develop shale gas in Sichuan province.

Specific plans still need to be worked out, Yan Cunzhang, a senior CNPC official, told Reuters.

Yan also said substantial progress in joint gas exploration and production by Royal Dutch Shell and CNPC in Sichuan would be seen in the near future.

Editing by David Holmes