Workers walk past the No.1 reactor at the Ningde Nuclear Power Plant in Ningde city, East China's Fujian province, April 18, 2013. [Photo/IC]
BEIJING - China's central authorities have signed off a major nuclear power development program despite the lingering shadow cast by Japan's Fukushima disaster.
On Thursday, the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, announced plans to develop offshore nuclear power projects, with spokesman Li Pumin ensuring that all projects will comply with the highest international security standards.
In addition, efforts to draft related administrative rules for nuclear power development have been heightened, according to head of the National Energy Administration's nuclear power department Liu Baohua.
There are currently 27 nuclear power plants under construction in China, placing it top in the world in that category. However, nuclear power facilities provide less than 2 percent of the country's power supply, far below the world average of 15 percent.
The initiative is expected to give the nuclear power sector a boost, driving high-end equipment production and optimizing power generation in a country that largely depends on thermal power for electricity.
"The decision will help unleash the industry's potential," said Zhuang Huolin, chief engineer of China Nuclear Engineering Corp Ltd under industry giant China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp (CNEC).
The decision has been a long coming for domestic nuclear power companies. China ceased issuing approvals for nuclear power projects following the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011. However, domestic companies have since enhanced their capabilities and safety standards.
CNEC, for instance, has been lauded for its ability to simultaneously build 40 nuclear power plants and it has 310 standard nuclear power construction systems under its belt.
With rising globally-recognized prowess and support from the central government, Chinese companies will play an important role in domestic and foreign nuclear power markets.
On Thursday, China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with South Africa, signaling the establishment of an official partnership in nuclear fuel recycling.
Last month, the National Energy Administration gave the go-ahead for the Hualong One project, the first homegrown nuclear power plant jointly created by CNEC and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), paving the way for the expansion of domestic nuclear power companies.
According to Zheng Hua, a chief engineer with CGN, a number of countries and regions have expressed interest in Hualong One, including South Africa, Turkey and Central Europe.
"China can not only supply advanced technology, but also project solutions for foreign countries," Zheng said.
He added that CGN was discussing collaborative projects with the UK as part of its future schedule.
Zhang Shiguo, director with China Industry Overseas Development and Plan Association, said China should not only support domestic players, but also encourage them to cooperate with foreign peers so as to boost sustainable growth in the industry.
But with nuclear power there comes radiation concern. The way in which China prepares for the potential crippling consequences of a nuclear incident is paramount.
Zheng Hua said China had learned from the Fukushima disaster and that China had developed technology to minimize the risks of a similar incident.
"At the Hualong One plant, for instance, three emergency power generators have been installed in case of outside shocks. They will also effectively reduce radiation seepage, if any, into the environment," Zheng said.