By David Stanway
BEIJING (Reuters) - China aims to build a nuclear reactor in the heavily polluted province of Hebei, which surrounds the capital Beijing, in a bid to cut smog and promote cleaner energy, the head of the country's nuclear agency said on Friday.
Hebei is home to seven of China's ten smoggiest cities. Under pressure to use cleaner energy sources, the province has already pledged to cut its consumption of polluting coal by 40 million tonnes over 2013-2017.
"For the integrated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, we are currently planning to build a nuclear plant on the Hebei coast," Xu Dazhe, chairman of the China Atomic Energy Authority, said at the launch of a China-U.S. nuclear safety research facility on the outskirts of Beijing.
He said the smog that had descended on Beijing this week was a reminder of the need to develop nuclear energy, which is also set to play a big role in meeting China's pledge to bring its greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by around 2030.
One of China's biggest state reactor builders has said the country's total installed nuclear capacity could rise to 120-150 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 from 28.3 GW in 2015.
The increase would require the completion of 8-10 new reactors every year until the end of the next decade. With all the country's existing reactors clustered in coastal regions, Xu said China continued to look into the possibility of building plants in the interior, adding that safety was the priority.
China has never experienced a serious nuclear accident, but it acknowledges its regulatory and emergency response capabilities remain insufficient. It is currently drawing up new atomic energy and nuclear safety laws and training up hundreds of staff in order to meet the gap.
Xu said the challenges remain huge but that the central government has already invested "billions of yuan" to boost security at existing plants.
Among new projects, China is focusing on safer "third-generation" reactor designs, including its homegrown Hualong 1 technology that will be promoted overseas in line with Beijing efforts to become a globally dominant player in the sector.
Chinese president Xi Jinping will join global leaders in Washington at the end of March to discuss issues such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism at an annual global security summit.
"I am very confident that President Xi and President Obama are going to talk about the appetite that both of our countries have to continue our cooperation," said U.S. energy secretary Moniz, who attended the ceremony to launch the China Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security in Beijing on Friday.
The China-U.S. facility will conduct research and share best practices on issues like securing hazardous nuclear materials and protecting reactors from attacks.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Himani Sarkar)