China to fall short of 2020 nuclear capacity target

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will fall short of its nuclear power generation capacity target for 2020, according to a forecast from the China Electricity Council on Tuesday.

A booth of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is pictured at an expo in Xian, Shaanxi province, China August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

Total nuclear capacity is expected to reach 53 gigawatts (GW) next year, below a target of 58 GW, council vice chairman Wei Shaofeng told the China Nuclear Energy Sustainable Development Forum in Beijing.

China is the world’s third-biggest nuclear power producer by capacity, with 45.9 GW installed by end-2018 and 11 units still under construction, but its reactor building program has stalled since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

No new approvals have been granted for the past three years, amid spiraling costs, delays for key projects and safety concerns about new technologies.

Environmental impact assessments for two new projects in southeast China were submitted to regulators last month, however, paving the way for a resumption of its atomic energy program.

Wei said capacity should reach 137 GW by 2030 if China raised the pace of nuclear construction to six to eight reactors a year from 2021 to 2030, and could hit 200 GW by 2035.

China’s electricity consumption is expected to keep rising until at least 2035, allowing room for nuclear power to serve as an effective replacement for coal-fired power plants, he added.

Overly rapid expansion, however, could end up lumbering the sector with overcapacity, warned Xu Yuming, vice chairman of the China Atomic Energy Association.

“We need to plan scientifically in order to ensure the sector develops in a healthy way ... The costs of constructing new nuclear power plants is rising and our nuclear enterprises are facing more economic pressures,” Xu told the conference.

China’s power pricing policies have left many nuclear reactors operating at less than full capacity in recent years, with tariffs for electricity from nuclear power plants more expensive than coal-fired power.

Nuclear power has been cheaper than wind power, but a rapid fall in construction costs for wind and solar facilities over the past two years has improved their competitiveness.

China is also backing new advanced reactor technologies, but costs for third generation nuclear reactors, are expected to be considerably more expensive than the earlier generation of reactors, according to a recent study by China Nuclear Energy Association.

Reporting by David Stanway; writing by Tom Daly and Muyu Xu; editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Richard Pullin