China is once again turning to nuclear energy as a way to power its growing economy in a green fashion. Beijing has approved two nuclear reactors for the first time in more than two years, recommitting itself to the power source after years of hesitation in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The WSJ reports:
The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic-planning agency, approved construction of two reactors in the country’s northeastern Liaoning province by state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp., according to a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange by the company’s listed unit, CGN Power Co.The statement said the NDRC approved units five and six of the Hongyanhe nuclear-power plant, located near the coastal city of Dalian. China has two operating reactors at Hongyanhe as well as two others already under construction, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. […]China is the world’s biggest nuclear growth market. The country operates 24 reactors currently. A further 25 are under construction, out of 68 globally, according to the IAEA. China doesn’t disclose total spending, but based on the cost of reactors, its buildout represents tens of billions of dollars in potential new business for Chinese and foreign companies over the coming decade.
This news should be music to an environmentalist’s ears. China burns half of the world’s coal, and unlike solar and wind energy, nuclear has the potential to phase out consumption of the fossil fuel. Because nuclear reactors can be run 24/7, they can be counted on as a baseload power source. Contrast that with renewables, which, barring better storage technology, can only contribute to the grid intermittently. Next to hydroelectricity, nuclear reactors are the only zero-emissions baseload power source we have, and unless we resign ourselves to only turning on the lights when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, they’re going to be the lynchpin of future green power mixes.Beijing recognizes that, which is why more than 36 percent of the world’s nuclear plants under construction can be found in China. Like the rest of the world, it was spooked by tragedy in Japan four years ago, and diligently checked and rechecked the safety of its fleet of reactors. Now it’s time to get back on track—Gaia should be pleased.