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China jumps back into nuclear power, but with less verve

China lays out plans to triple its nuclear power capacity by 2015. Until Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster, which triggered a moratorium, China planned to quadruple its nuclear capacity. 

By Staff writer / October 25, 2012

In this photo taken 2010, the Changjiang Nuclear Power Plant Phase II is under construction in southern China's Hainan province. Construction was stopped on it and 25 other plants after Japan's Fukushima disaster last year triggered a moratorium in China. But Beijing said Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, that it is ready to approve new nuclear power plants as part of ambitious plans to reduce reliance on oil and coal.

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China is back in the business of building nuclear reactors after officially lifting a 19-month freeze triggered by last year's  Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

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But in that time, its nuclear ambitions have come down a notch or two.

Instead of its pre-Fukushima goal to install 50 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity by 2015, China is now targeting 40 gigawatts, according to an official government white paper released Wednesday.

And Beijing says it is raising safety standards. The new nuclear reactors will have to meet the safety requirement of so-called third-generation reactors, Xinhua reports.

International officials can take some measure of comfort from China's scaled-down ambitions.

Just before last year's  Japanese disaster, China had laid out plans to become the world leader in nuclear power by 2020. That would have required a pell-mell building spree leaving the International Atomic Energy Agency and even some Chinese officials worried that China wouldn't have enough skilled personnel to run the plants, The New York Times reports.

Last year, China had 15 nuclear power generating units operating, with a total installed capacity of 12.5 gigawatts. Another 26 units, under construction, were delayed because of Beijing's moratorium. The government now says that it won't build inland nuclear plants and only make operational those coastal plants that meet the higher safety standards.

China derives less than 2 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nation's less ambitious goals still mean that its nuclear power capacity will triple in the next three years – still very fast growth by anybody's standards.

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