Christian Science Monitor
May 23, 2006
Sources say the next five-year plan may pull the plug on building more atomic plants: “Dai Qing, one of China’s most ardent environmental activists, says there’s a good reason for the lack of an anti-nuclear outcry following the Qinshan shutdown.”
Beijing — China has long vowed to become one of the biggest nuclear-energy powers on the planet. Less than three years ago, it was touting plans to spend as much as $100 billion on new nuclear plants. But today, there is a battle going on in Beijing’s corridors of power over the future of atomic energy in China. Some Chinese officials are indicating that an unpublished ban on the import of commercial reactors may be extended for the foreseeable future. “China has declared a moratorium on new [nuclear power] plant orders for the next three to four years,” says Michael Marriotte, who monitors China’s energy plans for the Washington-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service. Indeed, a Western diplomat says there are growing reports that China, which now has three commercial nuclear power units operating and eight more under construction, may impose a ban on any new facilities for the duration of the next five-year plan, which covers the period 2001-2005. If the ban is extended indefinitely, it could mark the beginning of the end for US and other Western nuclear-plant builders whose markets have dried up at home. If lifted, the Chinese market could spark a major renaissance for the nuclear industry, say American and European experts in the field. Just a few years ago, China looked like the nuclear industry’s salvation. American plant designers had state-of-the art technology but “faced dying demand in the US,” says Wu Yong, an executive at Westinghouse Electric China. And China saw the rapid development of nuclear plants “as an important status symbol of a major world power,” says a Western diplomat based in Beijing. It wanted to build as many as 50 new plants to meet the energy needs of its fast-growing economy.