Nuclear power is seen as a safer and more sustainable option for electricity generation than gas or coal-fired power plants. However, it is not without its challenges. In this article, we will explore the reasons why China is investing so heavily in this technology.
Problems With The Current Energy Mix
The world is shifting to a low-carbon future, as demonstrated by the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This requires reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere, especially from power generation. The existing energy mix, which mostly relies on fossil fuels, is not providing a stable source of energy for the world’s largest economy and is likely to cause serious environmental problems in the near future.
Nuclear power is seen as a more sustainable option than fossil fuels, with less CO2 emissions. However, it also has its challenges. A major issue is making sure that the spent fuel is safely stored. Fuel has the potential to meltdown in a serious disaster, as occurred at Fukushima in Japan.
Any new technology comes with its share of safety challenges. Though the risk of a major catastrophe is low, it does exist. When it comes to nuclear power, the biggest issue is securing adequate safety measures in case of an accident or malfunction. This is becoming a significant challenge as the industry has expanded rapidly in recent years, with new plants scheduled to come online in the next few years.
The industry has responded by strengthening its safeguards, including implementing strict emergency response plans and redundancies. However, more needs to be done. As a result, countries like China are seeking to invest in this technology despite its risks. They are also looking for ways to improve the safety of their existing coal-fired power plants by incorporating some of the features of a nuclear power plant.
Fuelling The Future
Another significant issue surrounding nuclear power is determining whether or not to allow its development. Different countries have taken different approaches towards this, with some welcoming it while others seeking to suppress it. The debate surrounding this topic was brought to the forefront in 2019, when the Trump administration decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. Though the decision was met with heavy criticism, especially from China and India, the U.S. president insisted that it was a necessary step in order to protect the environment.
Nuclear power provides a steady supply of energy, which many countries, especially those in the developing world, find appealing. The existing power plants that are currently in operation have been fuelled by oil, leading to serious environmental concerns. The fuel is becoming increasingly scarce, with major suppliers predicting that the world will be running out of oil in the next ten years.
If countries like China want to reduce their dependence on oil and reduce their carbon footprint, they will need to start looking for sustainable alternatives, including nuclear power.
A New Generation Of Nuclear Power Plants
Though the technology has existed for many years, nuclear power has only recently begun to see significant development, with several new plants coming online in the next couple of years. Most of these new plants will be designed with Chinese characteristics, incorporating the country’s advanced technology and expertise.
One of the leading exporters of nuclear power technology is China, with the country also building on its existing experience to develop new types of reactors for the global market.
These days, China is considered a safe place to invest, with the country’s economy more than likely to offer significant financial stability. In addition, major projects like the Beijing Daxing Airport and the massive China-Pakistan Friendship Bridge are expected to start generating power this year and next year respectively.
Countries like China have the ability to gain significant expertise in a short amount of time, with several of its universities considered to be some of the best in the world. This ability to quickly gain expertise makes the country particularly attractive to investors, with many companies considering China as a safe bet for the future.
Nuclear power is usually considered to be a base load type of power, generating energy even when the demand for electricity is low. This makes it ideal for integration into a smart grid, with electricity generated during off-peak hours transmitted to consumers when the need for energy is highest. This reduces the need for expensive standby generators, which are used when power generation exceeds demand.
Off-peak generation has several advantages. First, it reduces the need for expensive backup power supplies. Second, it allows consumers to manage their electricity use through smart appliances and technology. Third, it fits in with the goals of the Paris Agreement, with low-carbon energy sources generating energy when demand for electricity is low.
Larger Share Of Uneconomically Useful Power
Nuclear power provides a larger share of the total electricity generated during off-peak hours than during peak hours. This means that it is more efficient from an economic standpoint. However, during peak hours, natural gas-fired power plants and hydropower plants provide a larger share of the total electricity generated. This is because gas-fired power plants are more efficient during peak hours, with the fuel being cost-efficient compared to coal-fired power plants and hydropower stations.
Though the economic advantages of off-peak electricity generation are significant, it comes with its share of disadvantages. First, it requires a steady supply of fuel, which is likely to become increasingly expensive. Second, during peak hours, non-renewable energy sources, namely fossil fuels, provide a larger share of the total electricity generated. This puts pressure on countries to look for more sustainable energy sources, like solar and wind power, which are more expensive than fossil fuels.