Almost 40 percent of all new nuclear power plants currently under construction are in China, both in terms of unit number and electricity generation capacity. The Chinese public is increasingly accepting nuclear energy as an important source of the country’s “clean” energy supply, especially given rising concerns about pollution and environmental degradation. It is predicted that nuclear power will constitute as much as 15 percent of China’s total electricity generation by 2040, despite the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident, which led many countries to substantially cut down on their planned nuclear development.
In this podcast, Carnegie-Tsinghua’s Tong Zhao moderated a conversation between Xiamen University’s Ning Li and Carnegie’s Mark Hibbs on the complexities of China’s energy plans. Li and Hibbs discussed the possibility of resuming nuclear plant approval and construction in China’s inland provinces, where water scarcity and distance from robust infrastructure make nuclear plants more vulnerable.
Both scholars agreed that it is natural for the Chinese public to be concerned about such plants, but added that any and all plans for nuclear plants must sufficiently address water management and safety issues on a plant-specific basis. Moreover, Li explained that China enjoys a “latecomer advantage” in nuclear energy development, as it can make use of the international community’s well-developed body of knowledge and experiences. By working with international experts and ensuring strong communication and collaboration between regulators and companies, many problems can be overcome, they concluded.
Tong Zhao is an associate in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program based at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. His research focuses on strategic security issues, including nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, missile defense, strategic stability, and China’s security and foreign policy. Zhao was previously a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow with the Managing the Atom Project and the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
Ning Li is the dean of the School of Energy Research at Xiamen University and director of Asia Development for TerraPower, a company founded by Bill Gates to develop innovative nuclear energy technologies. He was formerly a project leader and a technical staff member of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was the deputy coordinator of the U.S. Department of Energy U.S.-China civilian nuclear energy cooperation program.
Mark Hibbs is a senior associate in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program, based in Berlin. Before joining Carnegie he was an editor and correspondent for nuclear energy publications including Nucleonics Week and Nuclear Fuel, published by the Platts division of the McGraw-Hill Companies for over twenty years. From the late 1980s until the mid-1990s, Hibbs covered nuclear developments in the Soviet bloc, including research on the USSR’s nuclear-fuel-cycle facilities and its nuclear-materials inventories. Since the mid-1990s, his work has focused emerging nuclear programs in Asia, including China and India.