China's nuclear power expansion "faster than planned"-Xinhua

BEIJING, March 8 (Reuters) - China is expanding nuclear power construction plans faster than earlier planned, a senior energy official told state media on Saturday, saying installed power capacity by 2020 could be 50 percent above the initial goal.

China’s nuclear energy development plan had called for operating power capacity to hit 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2020, enough to power Spain but feeding just 4 percent of total generating capacity for the voracious Chinese economy.

But Zhang Guobao, a vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission long involved in energy planning, said he now expected installed nuclear power capacity of 60 GW by that date, Xinhua news agency reported.

Xinhua cited Zhang as saying that “construction of nuclear power plants has been progressing faster than planned”.

“It is necessary to increase the share of nuclear power” and renewable energy sources, Zhang told Xinhua at the nation’s national parliament session, where he sits on a related advisory body.

The central government has allowed three inland provinces -- Hunan, Hubei and Jiangxi -- to prepare studies on building “third-generation” nuclear power plants, Zhang said.

China, the world’s second-largest power market, now has 11 working reactors with 9.07 GW of total installed capacity.

In 2007, those nuclear plants generated 62 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, up 16 percent from a year ago, but only 2 percent of the nation’s total, official data has shown, far behind the three-quarters in France and one quarter in Japan.

The main Chinese nuclear power investors are China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co Ltd and China Power Investment Corp, parent of Hong Kong-listed China Power International Development Ltd 2380.HK.

Last July, Westinghouse -- owned by Japan's Toshiba Corp 6502.T -- signed a multi-billion-dollar deal with Chinese partners to build four nuclear reactors.

In November, France's Areva CEPFi.PA clinched the biggest commercial nuclear power contract on record, agreeing to sell China two reactors and to provide atomic fuel for nearly two decades in a deal worth 8 billion euro. (Reporting by Chris Buckley, editing by Mike Peacock)