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"China Moves Cautiously Ahead on Nuclear Energy"

A staff member from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Dept. looks on during the Daya Bay nuclear power plant contingency plan exercise in Hong Kong, 27 April 2012.
AP Photo

"China Moves Cautiously Ahead on Nuclear Energy"

Op-Ed, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

April 22, 2013

Authors: Hui Zhang, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom, Shangui Zhao, Former Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom/International Security Program, September 2012–March 2013

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Managing the Atom; Science, Technology, and Public Policy



  • Following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, China slowed its rapid expansion of nuclear power and undertook a major reevaluation of safety practices.
  • In the last two years China has introduced strict and comprehensive new safety standards for nuclear power plants.
  • For the new safety standards to be effective, China should streamline the regulatory and legal framework governing nuclear power.


From 2005 to 2011, China rapidly developed its nuclear power capacity. In 2010 alone, it began operations at two new reactors and broke ground on 10 more, accounting for more than 60 percent of new reactor construction worldwide and making the Chinese nuclear industry by far the fastest-growing in the world. By the end of 2010, China had 14 nuclear reactors in operation with a total capacity of about 11 gigawatts electric, or GWe. That was still a relatively small amount — in contrast, the United States had 104 commercial reactors with a total capacity of about 100 GWe in 2010 — but China was pursuing ambitious plans to rapidly expand.

Then came the tsunami and earthquake that led to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in March 2011, the world's worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. After Fukushima, China changed course dramatically, slowing the pace of nuclear development to focus on safety. The slower pace is reassuring, but to really be a leader on nuclear safety, China should speed up the adoption of new laws on nuclear energy and enhance the independence and authority of nuclear safety regulators....

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For Academic Citation:

Zhang, Hui and Shangui Zhao. "China Moves Cautiously Ahead on Nuclear Energy." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 22, 2013.

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