BEIJING—China has decided to approve new nuclear power plants as part of plans to reduce reliance on oil and coal, ending the moratorium it imposed to review safety in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster last year.
The government’s decision on Wednesday that nuclear power is safe for China takes the country in the opposite direction from some developed nations such as Germany, which decided in the wake of the Fukushima disaster to speed its complete phase-out of nuclear power. Japan is planning to phase it out by 2040.
China is the world’s biggest energy consumer, and building new reactors is a key part of Beijing’s plans to curb demand for fossil fuels.
The communist government is aggressively promoting alternatives to coal and oil in order to reduce pollution and curb its reliance on imported petroleum, which it sees as a national security risk. Still, coal is forecast to remain the country’s main energy source for decades.
The government said on Wednesday it hopes to generate 30 percent of China’s power from solar, wind and other renewable sources, as well as from nuclear energy, by the end of 2015. That’s up from an earlier target of 15 percent from renewables plus five percent from nuclear by 2020.
The cabinet on Wednesday passed plans on nuclear power safety and development that said construction of nuclear power plants would resume “steadily.”
Only a small number of plants will be built, and only in coastal areas, according to a cabinet announcement. The plants will meet the most stringent safety standards, it said.
No date was given for resuming construction of nuclear plants. Despite widespread public concern over possible radiation contamination from the Fukushima disaster and calls for improved safety precautions and emergency preparedness, China remains committed to building up nuclear power to help reduce emissions from coal-fired plants and curb its reliance on costly oil imports.
China suspended approvals of new nuclear plants after a tsunami triggered by the massive March 11, 2011, earthquake crippled the Fukushima plant’s cooling and backup power systems, causing partial meltdowns in the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.
China’s leaders ordered safety checks for existing nuclear facilities, a review of projects under construction and improved safety standards.
“The inspection results show that nuclear security is guaranteed in China,” according to a government report on its energy policy also released on Wednesday. “China implements the principle of ‘safety first’ in the whole process of nuclear power station planning.”
China currently has 15 nuclear reactors that provide about 12.5 gigawatts of generating capacity, and another 26 reactors are under construction that will add 30 gigawatts, the report said.
Nuclear power accounts for only 1.8 percent of power in China, it said.
The government report also said that China is now 90 percent energy self-sufficient, but acknowledged high demand will continue to put a strain on resources.
It also warned of “grave challenges” to its energy security in its growing dependence on imported petroleum. Imports accounted for a third of total petroleum consumption in the early 2000s and have jumped to nearly 60 percent now, the report said.
China will also encourage private companies to participate in exploration and development of energy resources, it said.