China’s electricity demand soars

Associated Press

Qinshan, July 3:

Plans to build more nuclear power stations to meet demands.

The shadows of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island no longer reach to the pine-crested hillsides of Hangzhou Bay, where China is rushing to expanding a nuclear power station to meet soaring demand for electricity for its economic boom. Driven by crushing fuel shortages, smog and ambitions to profit from its hard-won nuclear prowess, Beijing has embarked on a quest to more than double its nuclear power generating capacity by 2020. The push for more nuclear power means opportunities for US, French and Russian firms that are competing for contracts — the biggest deals in years for the industry. The French nuclear group AREVA, Westinghouse Electric Co, the US unit of British Nuclear Fuels PLC, and Russia’s AtomStroyExport are awaiting a Chinese decision on bids for facilities at Sanmen, Zhejiang, and Guangdong province. “We are committed to transferring our advanced nuclear technology to China,” Paul Felten, a senior vice-president of AREVA’s, said. At Qinshan sites are being prepared for new reactors, in addition to the five already operating at three different facilities. “The excavation is almost finished,” said Yang Lanhe, general manager for Qinshan Phase II, China’s showcase for domestically developed nuclear technology and equipment.

Yang and other executives at Qinshan speak of nuclear power with the conviction of true believers. They point to China’s own accident-free record after 14 years of nuclear power generation. And they say technology has advanced far beyond that used decades earlier, when the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania and the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine decimated public support for atomic energy in the West. “We know and understand that nuclear power is a clean and good energy and we think it would be good to increase its share,” said Hu Haiyun, Communist Party chief for the Qinshan Nuclear Base. China’s nuclear programme, dating back to the 1950s, began commercial operations only in 1991. For six years, beginning in 1997, dozens of potential projects were put on hold amid concerns over excess capacity, safety, relatively high costs of nuclear-generated electricity. The race to build more plants resumed last year, as China struggled with blackouts amid its worst energy crisis in decades. From the highest levels of Chinese government to the technicians running Qinshan and other plants, there is a newfound conviction that nuclear power is the most practical option for reducing China’s reliance on heavily polluting coal-fired power plants. ‘Build Nuclear Power, Enrich the People,’ says a slogan on billboards throughout the sprawling facility.