BEIJING, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- China has lifted a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear projects, imposed 19 months ago after Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.
That decision was included among several measures passed during a meeting of China's Cabinet Wednesday presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao.
Under the new plan China would have 40 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity -- three times the current level -- by 2015, says a statement released after a the Cabinet meeting.
Just prior to the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, however, China announced a plan to become the world's leader in nuclear power by 2020, with more reactors to be built by that year than the rest of the world combined. Nearly one-third of those were to be built inland.
Under the new plan, China will construct only a few projects in coastal areas that have gone through "adequate justification processes," the statement says. No nuclear projects will be constructed in inland regions.
"The principle of putting safety first must be implemented throughout the planning, construction, operation, retirement and other related processes," it said, noting that "safety is the lifeline of nuclear power."
China would apply the world's highest safety requirements to new nuclear power projects and adhere to third-generation nuclear safety standards in constructing new projects, the statement said.
"Even with the resumption of new approvals, I don't think we will see a reckless expansion as previously planned because of the months-long postponement (in the lifting of the ban) and simply the fact of the halting of inland reactors," Yang Fuqiang , a senior energy adviser for the Natural Resources Defense Council's office in Beijing, was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying.
As for the country's existing nuclear power facilities, the statement said the government has conducted "comprehensive and stringent security and safety checks" following the Fukushima nuclear accident. "The results have proved that the safety of China's nuclear power is guaranteed."
A government assessment released this month indicates that it would cost approximately $12.8 billion to upgrade China's nuclear facilities to international standards, the Financial Times reports.
Nuclear power accounts for 1.8 percent of China's total power output, compared to the world average of 14 percent, the statement says, while coal accounts for about 70 percent of China's energy consumption and about 80 percent of its electricity production.
Nuclear energy is irreplaceable," He Jiankun, director of the Institute of Low Carbon Economy at Tsinghua University, told China Daily newspaper, noting that it strikes a balance between an increasing thirst for energy and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He said that China's competitiveness would be compromised if it rejects nuclear power or if it fails to use the latest nuclear technology.