For worldwide proponents of nuclear power as a low-emission, baseload power source, China’s ambitious nuclear power deployment programme has served as a solitary beacon of light in an otherwise glum industry. Considering Japan’s industry restart remains stuck in a policy and regulatory quagmire; Europe’s previously seemingly resurgent industry has been beset by project slowdowns; Southeast Asia’s ambitions have largely been set aside or cancelled; and a large portion of the US industry is teetering on the brink of insolvency due to unfavourable market and policy shifts, the tremendous build projections of the Chinese industry offer a tenuous lifeline to nuclear power technology firms around the world. Unfortunately, nuclear power projects remain notoriously vulnerable to cost and schedule overruns and shifting policies, and the Chinese nuclear power program in recent years has been no different.
Following a multi-year run of rapid and successful power project development from 2008-2013, the years since 2014 have seen China struggle with behind-schedule deployment of third generation reactor technologies, missed targets for capacity installation, and an expanding and already three-year gap since the last commercial power reactor broke ground (2016-present). Beyond this, China continues to face electricity oversupply problems complicated by slower economic growth and grid capacity constraints in various regions around the country– indeed The Lantau Group has covered solar and wind curtailment issues in China previously – which begs the question whether these projected new nuclear plants are even necessary. Accordingly, one could be forgiven for taking a bearish view on the future growth of the China nuclear program.
In this edition of TLG On, we put China’s recent nuclear industry challenges in perspective. We note that China still appears committed to its nuclear programme and has made more progress behind-the-scenes managing technology shifts and deployment plans than might first seem. We acknowledge the slowdown in recent years, but consider an uptick in nuclear sector activity to be more likely looking ahead. We discuss some of the knock-on effects of the future growth in nuclear, including potential impacts on China’s renewables targets and current power oversupply; as well as on the worldwide nuclear fuel supply ecosystem.