To meet the growing demand for power and reduce reliance on coal, China is planning to build more inland nuclear power stations despite concerns about potential risks.
Wang Yiren, vice director of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, said in an interview with China National Radio, which was published Monday, that the country has already decided the locations of its inland nuclear reactors and that construction is likely to start by 2020.
There are around 400 nuclear power stations in the world, most of which are located inland and therefore not usually affected by tsunamis, typhoons or other extreme coastal weather phenomena.
"If it is safe to build nuclear power plants in coastal areas, it is also not a problem to build them inland," stressed Wang.
China halted all its nuclear power projects after Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, but began construction work on several projects in eastern coastal areas in 2015. Although the resumption of the construction of the inland nuclear power projects has yet to be officially announced, at least 10 provinces have already proposed to develop their own nuclear power industries.
Despite governments' and companies' efforts to ease public fears, some scholars argued that an inland nuclear power plant may carry bigger risks of accidents and nuclear leaks.
Wang said in the interview that nuclear power development is one of the best ways to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and major pollutants. China has an urgent need for inland nuclear power plants to meet power demand and ensure stable electrical supply.
According to the plan, China's nuclear power capacity would reach 58 million kilowatts by 2020. The total capacity of the plants currently under construction will be 30 million kilowatts.
Wang said the third-generation nuclear power technology has greatly promoted the safety of the reactors. Once an accident happens, it will be confined within the reactor. Moreover, he clarified that an inland nuclear power station will use cyclical cooling water towers, instead of draining away or pumping water from the rivers.
Three inland nuclear reactors with an investment of over 10 billion yuan (.5 billion) have already obtained approval from the National Development and Reform Commission, which include the Taohuajiang nuclear power plant in Hunan Province, the Xianning nuclear power plant in Hubei Province and the Pengze nuclear power plant in Jiangxi Province.
"Technology is not a problem. The difficulty lies in letting the public accept the plan," an employee from the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) told the Global Times.
However, the inland nuclear power plants also have run into strong opposition from Chinese scholars.
He Zuoxiu, a theoretical physicist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that building inland nuclear power plants is more complex. Except for seismic and geologic siting, ecological factors including the growth of population and release of radioactive liquid waste should also be taken into consideration.
"We cannot simply draw a conclusion that China should have inland plants because European countries have them," said He, adding that the population density in the three sites is much higher than in European countries while the atmospheric dispersion conditions for possible radioactive emissions is not as ideal as the US.
Moreover, Wang revealed that China will also develop floating nuclear power stations during the 13th Five-Year Plan and has already organized experts to conduct research into how to build the plants.
Floating power stations will aim to promote the exploitation of oil and gas resources and provide safe and efficient power supply to remote islands in the South China Sea, said Wang.
CNNC declined to reveal any details about the floating stations on Monday but an article published on its official WeChat account in July said that China is expected to build 20 floating nuclear power stations in the future, which will significantly beef up the power and water supplies on the South China Sea islands.
Sun Qin, former chairman of the National Nuclear Corporation, told the Xinhua News Agency in March 2016 that the facility is scheduled to be put into operation in 2019.
"Floating power stations are less susceptible to natural disasters. In an emergency, the station could pump seawater into a boat to prevent core melting. Besides, the platform is small and can be dragged to a suitable place for maintenance," thepaper.cn reported in February, quoting an expert.