China unveiled new nuclear safety and development plans last week, following a 20-month hold on approving new reactors in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. In an email interview, Yun Zhou, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard University Belfer Center's Project on Managing the Atom and International Security Program, discussed China’s nuclear energy program.
WPR: What is the current state of China’s existing nuclear reactors in terms of quality and safety?
Yun Zhou: China currently has 15 reactor units in operation and 26 units under construction. The first wave of nuclear reactors was mainly based on foreign designs, while most of the units that that began construction since 2005 are of Chinese design. China’s reactor designs and safety regulations are in line with international standards and requirements. The country currently has a perfect safety record and has never had incidents higher than level one on the International Nuclear Event Scale. (Fukushima was level seven, in contrast.) However, the Fukushima accident prompted China to rethink and re-evaluate its nuclear safety system and practices. It has since conducted safety inspections on units in operation and under construction. The inspections report listed a number of problems, and the actions to fix the problems will be implemented in the next three years.