China National Nuclear Power appeals for bigger role in carbon neutrality

“Nuclear energy is the most realistic strategic choice” for carbon goals

Update: A more accurate description of China’s carbon goals - China aims to reach the carbon peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060 - has been updated to replace the original and inaccurate version reaching carbon peak in 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2060.

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Pekingnology plans to present a series of speeches by guests at the 2021 Tsinghua PBCSF Economic Forum on Carbon Neutrality held on September 16 in Beijing, which was widely covered in Chinese media.

Full video documentation, for around 4 hours, is available at Tsinghua PBCSF’s Twitter account.

The PBC School of Finance (PBCSF), Tsinghua University’s 17th school, was founded in 2012, as a joint venture between Tsinghua and the People's Bank of China (PBC), building on the Graduate School of PBC, an esteemed school founded by China’s central bank in the early 1980s. 

Below is a partial translation of a speech by Lu Tiezhong, head of China National Nuclear Power Co., LTD., in the business of the development, investment, construction, operations, and management of nuclear power projects. The Shanghai-listed company is part of the larger China National Nuclear Corporation.

The translation is based on a transcript in Mandarin of Lu’s speech shared by the forum’s organizer with Chinese media journalists. The highlighting of certain sentences is by Pekingnology, which feels obligated to note the speech was made well ahead of the recent widely-reported power outages in China.

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1) Developing nuclear energy is the most realistic strategic choice to realize the carbon goals (China aims to reach the carbon peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060).

First, nuclear energy is clean, low-carbon, efficient, and reliable, with unique advantages in high energy density, taking relatively small area of land, and low cost in long-term operation. The fission of one kilogram of uranium-235 releases the same amount of energy as 2,700 tons of standard coal equivalent, without emitting carbon dioxide. The greenhouse gas emission level of nuclear power in the entire industry chain is similar to that of hydropower and wind power, only one-fifth of solar power, and about two orders of magnitude lower than that of coal power.

Second, globally, nuclear energy has become a major force in clean energy. In 2020, global nuclear power generated 2.553 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh), amounting to about one-third of the world's low-carbon electricity and helping avoid at least 2.9 billion tons of carbon emissions.

Nuclear power is a source of electrical power that can replace the baseload of fossil energy on a large scale and has a certain load-following ability.

In 2020, the electricity generated from nuclear power units in operation in China is 366.243 billion kWh, accounting for 4.94 percent of the country's total electricity generating capacity.

Compared with the global average share of nuclear power at 9.52%, there is still a lot of room for improvement. The higher the proportion of nuclear power in China's energy structure, the more conducive it is to the security of the entire power grid system, and to the power grid in its ability to utilize a large proportion of intermittent renewable energy such as wind and solar energy.

Nuclear energy can also play an important role in many areas of the national economy, such as clean heating, seawater desalination, industrial steam supply,, and production of medical isotopes.

Due to its four comprehensive advantages of cleanliness, low carbon, efficiency, and reliability, nuclear energy is the most realistic strategic choice for major countries' energy strategy and climate change response and has become an important force for the world, especially China, to win the battle of "carbon peak and carbon neutrality" as well as promote energy transformation and development and ecological civilization construction.

2) China has all the conditions to become a power in nuclear energy.

First, thanks to more than 30 years of effort, China has achieved the large-scale development of nuclear power, formed a complete nuclear power industry chain, and maintained a solid talent pool.

Since the Qinshan Nuclear Power Plant, the first one in the Chinese mainland, being connected to the power grid on December 15, 1991, China has never stopped its nuclear power construction in the past three decades. By the end of August 2021, China has 51 commercial nuclear power units with a total installed capacity of 53.27 million kilowatts, ranking third in the world.

China has 18 nuclear power units under construction, with a total capacity of 19.02 million kilowatts, ranking first in the world in terms of capacity under construction for many years in a row. The country has trained and maintained a team of about 200,000 high-quality nuclear energy talents.

Second, China leads the world in nuclear power operations and has a reliable safety record. For more than 30 years, China has witnessed the high safety level and sound operation of nuclear power plants in operation. There has never been an event or accident of level II or above on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES).

In 2020, 28 nuclear power plants in the Chinese mainland reached full marks in the World Nuclear Operators Association's comprehensive, accounting for 60 percent of the total number of nuclear power plants in China and one-third of the world's fully-marked plants. Among the 21 units in our company last year, 15 units got full marks, accounting for nearly 72%. By the end of August this year, 19 of the 22 units, as counted under our company’s operation, have achieved marks, accounting for 86.4%.

Third, the independent design and construction of nuclear power plants in China have also entered the forefront of the world, and the supply capacity of equipment indigenously designed and developed has been greatly enhanced.

On January 30, 2021, in the city of Fuqing in east China's Fujian Province, the No. 5 nuclear unit of China National Nuclear Corporation entered operation, which is the first in the world in using Hualong One, a domestically designed third-generation nuclear reactor.

Construction of the multi-purpose small modular reactor (SMR) demonstration project called Linglong One, with a capacity of 125,000 kW, began on July 13.

The first criticality was achieved in China's high-temperature gas-cooled reactor nuclear power demonstration project - a major national science and technology project - on September 12……

Fourth, China’s policy on developing nuclear power is more active and clearer, so that the nuclear energy industry has a promising future. It has been clearly stated in this year’s government work report that "nuclear power should be actively and orderly developed under the premise of ensuring safety".

According to the prediction of the China Nuclear Energy Association, China's domestically designed third-generation nuclear power plants will achieve large-scale mass development in accordance with the annual approval pace of 6 to 8 units. It is estimated that by 2025, China's nuclear power installed capacity will be more than 70 million kW, with about 50 million KW under construction. By 2030, China's installed nuclear power capacity is expected to reach 120 million kW, and nuclear power generation will account for about 8 percent of the country's electricity generation.

3) China National Nuclear Power Co., LTD. (CNNP) will develop in five aspects simultaneously to empower a clean and bright future. 

Standing on a new starting point where China moves from being a country with big nuclear energy to a country with strong nuclear energy, we are committed to helping achieve carbon peak and carbon neutrality. CNNP, as a trailblazer and leader in the development of China's nuclear power industry, will develop in five aspects simultaneously and empower a clean and bright future.

First, we shall adhere to the nuclear safety culture…to continuously expand the scale of the nuclear power market. Nuclear safety is the lifeline of nuclear energy development and has always been a top priority. We will always put safety first and build high-quality projects. By the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan, we shall strive to have the annual nuclear power generation reach 200 billion kWh, and more than 70% of nuclear power units will continue to lead the world in terms of operating performance and comprehensive WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators) performance indicators.

Second, we shall……expand multi-purpose utilization of nuclear energy……promote the implementation of “nuclear power + projects” in an orderly manner, including nuclear power-based heating, hydrogen production, gas supply, seawater desalination, and comprehensive smart energy services in industrial parks. 

Third, we shall give full play to nuclear power technical service expertise and accelerate the pace of international cooperation in nuclear energy. CNNP has the most nuclear power units under construction and operation in China, with more than 11,000 technicians and skilled workers and more than 4,000 management personnel. CNNP continuously provides professional technical services for domestic and international counterparts. In the future, we will continue to expand the international market with technical services as the link.

Fourth, we shall insist on integrated development…and strive to reach the target where the installed capacity of wind power and solar PV power projects reach more than 30 million kilowatts and their installed capacity under construction reach more than 3 million kilowatts during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).

Fifth, we shall insist on innovation development, and actively making technological breakthroughs in smart, clean technology. We have established a joint research center for digital nuclear power technology with School of Software of Tsinghua University. 

In the future, we will pay close attention to the development trend of cutting-edge technologies, such as new technology in energy and electricity as well as multi-energy coupling technologies, carrying out technological innovation as well as research and development and industrial promotion of low-carbon, zero-carbon and even negative-carbon technologies with the focus on improving the safety performance of nuclear power units.

At the same time, China's nuclear power plants are all in coastal areas where there are limited sites that meet the requirements (for building nuclear power plants). Therefore, we also actively appeal for a gradual development of inland nuclear power plants in a steady and orderly manner on the national level under the premise of ensuring nuclear safety, so that nuclear power can contribute more to the realization of carbon peak and carbon neutrality.

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Again, please note again this is a partial translation, and the highlighting of certain sentences is by Pekingnology.

Translated by Alexander Wang, a contributor, and copyedited & reviewed by Zichen Wang, founder of Pekingnology. Don’t hesitate to reply should you have any questions, suggestions, or criticism.

A guest post by
Journalist from "China state-affiliated media"