In a highly significant move, the Chinese government today appeared to be following Germany in announcing the suspension of its approval process for new nuclear construction projects. China is the world’s leader in nuclear expansion, with 28 plants currently under construction — or roughly 40 percent of the world total. The New York Times reports that it remains “unclear how many would be affected by the new order.”
After discussions with the State Council, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao further announced thorough safety checks of existing plants. A statement on the government website read that “we must fully grasp the importance and urgency of nuclear safety, and development of nuclear power must make safety the top priority. Any hazards must be thoroughly dealt with, and those that do not conform to safety standards must immediately cease construction.”
The news is relevant because China’s ambitious nuclear project is widely perceived as a way for the rising giant to decarbonize its rapid growth trajectory while continuing to address the surging energy demand of its people and industries. According to the Guardian, “China wants nuclear power to play a big role in its plans to cut dependence on coal over the next decade.”
As Sara Mansur reported yesterday, Germany’s decision to close seven nuclear power plants could raise its carbon emissions by 4 percent. The climate consequences of a Chinese moratorium — especially since it is likely to be compensated for by additional coal-fired power plants — would clearly be an order of magnitude greater.