China Plans Astonishing Nuclear Power Surge by 2035

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According to the US Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2011, China plans to add far more new nuclear capacity than any other nation. China will add 106 GW of nuclear capacity by 2035. Despite some temporary delay after Fukushima, China aims to have 40 reactors by 2020 and, by 2030, enough additional reactors to generate more power than all 104 reactors in the US.

For clean energy readers, familiar with China’s incredibly rapid deployment of solar and wind power, compared to the rest of the world, this kind of investment intensity may be less jarring, because we have already seen China’s level of commitment and effective implementation of its clean energy policies resulting from its pragmatic acceptance of the realities of a carbon-constrained future.

China has been competent in implementing effective climate policy. It rearranged the national grid to be able to accept long distance transmission within two weeks, for example – something that would not be possible here.

China’s nuclear power surge might seem less shocking in the context of the rest of its low-carbon energy investment – its new wind power is growing 1,000 times faster than its new coal power for example. The US invested just $90 billion on clean energy in the Recovery Act after the 2008 crash, but their renewables surge totaled $800 billion.

But I’ll bet that to many people – this level of investment in nuclear power might be a little frightening.

However, other than its being drily noted within this report from the US Energy Information Administration forecasting energy needs and use over the next thirty odd years, there hasn’t been any corporate media scaremongering over China developing nuclear power like there was about the so-called “Axis of Evil” nations or India or Pakistan doing so.

As with its equally ambitious renewable energy plans, China is making the right moves to make nuclear power big. It has an ambitious plan to train an army of nuclear engineers, unlike the US which has an aging nuclear workforce and few new nuclear engineers. State ownership of the industry guarantees capital and relatively quick approvals of new plants.

Among non-OECD countries, China will have the highest percentage increase in emissions per capita, according the forecast, from 5.1 metric tons per person in 2008 to 9.3 metric tons per person in 2035, an average annual increase of 2.2 percent. In 2035, China’s energy demand is projected to be 68% higher than US energy demand.

In the 20th century, China perhaps did more than any nation to cut global greenhouse gas emissions. Its extremely draconian one child policy, intended to curb overpopulation (for economic development reasons) indirectly benefited all mankind. Human energy use adds heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which causes increases in the number and frequency of climate extremes. The more people there are, living at a first world standard of living (which China is headed for) the more global greenhouse gases will destabilize our fragile climate balance.

And in the 21st century, if its carbon-free energy plans are ambitious enough, China will perhaps do more than any nation in this century too, to help reduce the spectre of climate change.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter


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