BEIJING (Reuters) - China must learn lessons from Japan's nuclear power crisis and ensure its own nuclear power sector develops safely, a top Chinese energy official said, as the country rushes to add new reactors to cut reliance on carbon-intensive coal.
Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, was rocked by an explosion on Saturday after Friday's massive earthquake forced reactors to shut down.
A new explosion hit the plant on Monday, sending a plume of smoke into the air and Japan's nuclear safety agency said it could not confirm whether or not the explosion had led to an uncontrolled leak of radioactivity.
China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp (CGNPC), the country's two nuclear power plant operators, have said all their plants were not affected by the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
Relevant Chinese parties must carefully analyze the Japanese accidents, said Liu Tienan, head of the National Energy Administration, in a Monday report posted on the website of the National Development and Reform Commission (www.ndrc.gov.cn).
He said nuclear safety was critical and developing a nuclear power sector safely must be guaranteed.
Liu made the comment when he visited the China Institute of Atomic Energy on Sunday, where China is building its first experimental fast reactor.
China has long set a three-stage nuclear strategy: firstly developing thermal reactor, and then fast reactors and finally fusion reactors. It did not provide a timeframe.
Zhang Lijun, a vice Chinese environment minister, said on Saturday China would not change its plans to develop nuclear power even though some lessons learned from Japan would be considered in the construction of China's nuclear power plants.
China is building about 28 reactors or roughly 40 percent of the world's total, part of a massive drive to reduce its heavy dependence on dirty coal, and cut carbon emissions.
Coal is the source of around 80 percent of China's power output.
China has only 10.8 gigawatts of nuclear power generating capacity in operation after more than two decades of construction, and it aims to start building 40 gigawatts before the end of 2015 alone, according to the country's latest five-year plan.
The country's rapidly expanding nuclear power industry is demanding more professionals than the country can produce, a potential threat to safety, a senior government official had warned.
The official Chinese target has been delayed for some months already due to conflicts between those who favor an aggressive expansion and those who want a more cautious approach, due primarily to concerns over safety and a lack of experienced personnel to run so many plants, a senior official with the China Nuclear Society told Reuters on Monday.
It will likely take some time before China can fully assess what the Japanese case might mean for future Chinese plans, the official said, who declined to be named.
China's nuclear power plants were safe because the reactors in service adopted mostly improved technologies and nuclear sites were far away from geological rift zones, CNNC said in a report on its website (www.cnnc.com.cn), citing its chief fast reactor expert Xu Mi.
(Reporting by Jim Bai and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)