China is likely to scale back its ambitious plans to construct nuclear power plants under a new policy that stresses safety instead of rapid development, an industry official said in comments reported Tuesday by state media.
The statement came as Japan struggles to stop radiation leaking from a crippled nuclear power plant but there was no announcement the policy change was prompted by that disaster. Beijing is promoting nuclear power to curb surging demand for oil and gas, but analysts say the industry's rapid growth is straining China's ability to supply equipment and technicians.
Beijing's nuclear power plan for the next five years changes its stance from "energetic development" to "safe and highly efficient development," said the deputy director of the China Electricity Council, Wei Zhaofeng, according to newspapers.
That should lead to a reduction of about 10 gigawatts in generating capacity from the 90 gigawatts previously expected to be built by 2020, Wei said. Government plans called for nuclear to supply up to 5 percent of China's power by 2020 but Wei said under the new policy, that should be closer to 3 percent.
Employees who answered the phone at the CEC, the group for China's power utilities, declined to confirm Wei made the comments or give any details or their names. The reports by the China Business News, China Daily and other newspapers gave no details of how development plans would be affected.
The policy change came in the ruling Communist Party's latest five-year development plan approved by party leaders in October, according to Wei.
"Right now, it seems that the previous plan was relatively `aggressive,' but that is hard to achieve," the China Business News cited Wei as saying.
The Cabinet suspended approvals for new nuclear plants after the March 11 tsunami that triggered the unfolding crisis at Japan's Fukushima complex. But the nuclear safety director of China's Environmental Protection Ministry, Tian Jiashu, said in a statement Saturday the government had faith in its technology and would go ahead with expansion plans.
Wei said China should "pay a high degree of attention to nuclear power safety" in light of Japan's disaster, according to China Business News.
The Japanese disaster might prompt Chinese officials to be more conservative but nuclear power still will play a key role in their energy plans, said Xianfang Ren, China economist for IHS Global Insight.
"The country has basically been at its top capacity building nuclear power plants in the past few years, which is causing shortage in supply of nuclear equipment and technicians," said Ren in a report.
"There is a likelihood that policymakers may take a more conservative approach in the short term, taking into account both the safety issue and the supply constraint for nuclear power plant equipment and technicians."
China has 13 nuclear reactors with about 10 gigawatts of generating capacity and plans call for expanding that to about 40 gigawatts by 2015. An additional 28 reactors are under construction.
Beijing says it is reviewing safety at China's nuclear plants following the disaster in Japan. Few details have been released but state television said last week technicians were assessing safeguards at the coastal Daya Bay nuclear plant north of Hong Kong, including sea walls to shield against a tsunami.
Beijing is promoting nuclear, wind, solar and other alternative energy to curb surging demand for imported oil and gas and to reduce environmental damage from heavy reliance on coal. Its latest economic plan calls for alternative sources to supply at least 11.4 percent of China's power by 2015.