China takes a step away from coal and moves toward nuclear energy

In a bid to go carbon free.
Ameya Paleja
Construction at site of nuclear powered steam generatorBim/iStock

China has started the construction of a nuclear energy-powered steam supply unit in the Lianyungang City in eastern Jiangsu Province, state-run news media agency CGTN reported. The unit will be used to convert desalinated water into steam for industrial applications in the area. 

Last year, China officially submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) its intention to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. This also requires the country to move away from fossil fuels in the short term. In the past, China has mainly relied on coal to fuel its industrial growth, and the construction of a nuclear-powered steam supply unit is a strong indicator of China's move towards carbon-free energy sources.

Nuclear-powered steam supply 

China uses coal-fired power stations or coal-fired boilers to meet the steam requirements of its industrial units. Replacing just one such unit for industries in Lianyungang City is expected to save close to 400,000 tons (362,800 tonnes) of coal from being burnt and prevent over one million tons (0.97 million tonnes) of carbon dioxide from being released. 

The construction of the nuclear-powered steam supply project is expected to take 24 months to complete and is being taken up at a cost of 730.8 million yuan ($108.4 million) which also includes the cost of making new desalination plants, pumping stations, and power stations, CGTN said in its report. 

The steam will be taken from secondary circuits of the Tianwan nuclear power plant, which was commissioned in 2006. According to the Eurasian Times, the steam will be transferred to the Lianyungang Petrochemical Industrial Base via an insulated above-ground pipeline. After going through a multi-stage heat exchange, the steam will be used in the industrial production process.

This project will also serve as an energy demonstration plan for upgrading and transforming China's petrochemical industry. The Lianyungang Petrochemical Industrial Base is one of China's seven petrochemical industry bases planned and constructed. 

China's push for nuclear energy

Earlier this year, China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) unveiled its vision for a greener future which includes turning to nuclear power for industrial applications such as heating and desalination, Eurasian Times reported. 

According to the NDRC plan, China will invest heavily in building nuclear power plants along its coast while also supporting efforts at deploying other advanced nuclear energy technologies such as high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, fast reactors, modular small reactors, and offshore floating reactors. To sum up, the country wants to install 70 million kilowatts (7000 MW) of nuclear capacity by 2025. 

The Tianwan plant that will begin supplying nuclear-powered steam has four operational nuclear reactors that Russia supplied. Units 5 and 6 of the power plant were built indigenously by China and are now operational since last year. Units 7 and 8 of the power plant have also been supplied by Russia and are currently under construction. With all units operational, the Tianwan plant will become the world's largest nuclear power plant with an operating capacity of 8,100 MW, Eurasian Times said.  

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