China plans huge nuclear power expansion

Dec. 16, 2009 at 12:11 AM
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BEIJING, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- China, under pressure to cut gas emissions, plans a huge expansion of its nuclear power program in coming decades by adding about 10 new plants annually.

While China's current civilian nuclear power industry, with 11 plants, hasn't had major incident, there are safety concerns both at home and abroad with the pace of the new program, although it is seen as at least helping slow down gas emissions blamed for global warming, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Currently, nuclear plants producing about nine gigawatts of power account for 2.7 percent of China's total electricity. Under the new plans, the country wants to more than quadruple that capacity in the next 10 years, and increase it to as much as 400 gigawatts by 2050. However, because of growing demand, the new capacity, if fully achieved, would still generate only 9.7 percent of the total output in 2020.

Safety concerns have surfaced because many of the new plants would be located near cities with large populations, the Times reported. China's safety scandals in the food, pharmaceutical and toy industries and poor construction of some schools that collapsed during last year's earthquake in Sichuan province also have not been forgotten.

China's safety record in industries supervised by the government such as aviation is strong, the Times said. Safety concerns in the nuclear power industry are expected to grow as the pace picks up and more contractors and subcontractors seek to cut costs.

"It's a concern, and that's why we're all working together because we hear about these things going on in other industries," William P. Poirier with Westinghouse Electric, which is building four nuclear reactors in China, told the newspaper.

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