China Adding Nuclear Plants at Record Pace in Fight Against Smog

China is set to add nuclear reactors at a record pace this year as the nation seeks to cut pollution by reducing its dependence on coal.

China may start operating 8 reactors this year, according to Zhao Chengkun, the vice chairman of the China Nuclear Energy Association, citing an estimate by the National Energy Administration. This puts the world’s biggest energy consumer on track to install 58 gigawatts of atomic power capacity by 2020, said Zhao. That would exceed Japan’s nuclear resources before the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

“This is quite a spree,” Zhao said in a April 24 interview in Beijing. “I don’t remember such a pace in history.”

China is betting that nuclear energy will provide a source of power that’s less polluting and cheaper than coal-fired generation, according to Zhao. President Xi Jinping has pledged an “iron hand” to protect the environment as the world’s worst polluter aims to cap carbon emissions by 2030. Atomic energy now accounts for just 2 percent of the country’s total power generation, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

China installed a total of 20.3 gigawatts of atomic capacity at the end of 2014, and has 28.5 gigawatts in construction, the most in the world, according to the nation’s nuclear association. The country started building commercial reactors in 1994.

— With assistance by Sarah Chen

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