China yesterday approved the construction of two new nuclear reactors, giving a long-awaited go-ahead to Chinese nuclear developers.

The country halted its rapid nuclear power expansion in 2011, when Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex experienced meltdowns after a deadly tsunami. While Chinese officials allowed several already approved nuclear projects to complete their construction after passing safety reviews, they did not approve starting new projects—until yesterday.

State-owned China General Nuclear Power Group, formerly known as China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, gained the first approval.

In a statement released through the Hong Kong stock exchange, China General Nuclear Power Group said that the two newly approved reactors will be at the Hongyanhe nuclear power plant.

The company already has two operating reactors as well as two others under construction at the same site, which is about 70 miles north of Dalian, a major coastal city in northern China.

The brief statement gave no details of which companies would supply equipment for the new reactors nor did it give any timetable for the project's construction. But it did note that the preparation work is already underway and the developer is waiting for a final nod from Chinese nuclear safety regulators before starting the construction.

Experts say the approval of new nuclear reactors is critical for China to achieve its target of installing 58 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2020. Currently, the country has 22 nuclear reactors in operation, with a total capacity of 20 GW.

Looking for an alternative to coal
China has long been hungry for nuclear power, as policymakers here are seeking alternative energy sources to replace dirty coal. Since Chinese President Xi Jinping announced last year that his country will try to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, researchers say, the importance of nuclear power has grown further.

According to a report published in November by Tsinghua University in Beijing, without adding nuclear power plants on a large scale, China's carbon emissions peak could be delayed by as long as a decade.

Those words are music to the ears of Chinese nuclear businesses. They have also carried out their own projection. Earlier this month, local media quoted He Yu, chairman of China General Nuclear Power Group, as saying that if the country wants to meet its target of feeding 20 percent of its energy mix with non-fossil fuels, it will need to install at least 150 GW of nuclear reactors by 2030.

In addition to lobbying for nuclear power expansion, He suggested that China should start the construction of inland nuclear power plants in the next five years.

So far, all the nuclear power plants in China are located along the coast. Chinese officials and industry players have tried to spread the construction inland but have failed to get local residents on their side. Some scientists are also strongly against the idea, saying that regions in the interior face potential risks such as lacking sufficiently reliable water supplies to cool down nuclear reactors during droughts.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500