China is expected to increase nuclear power plant construction steadily in the coming years, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, China Daily reported on 7 July, citing insiders.

Nuclear power will play a more significant role in China's energy mix and will gradually replace fossil fuels, according to a blue book  released by the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA). CNEA estimates that China will construct six to eight reactors a year between 2020 and 2025, which will also help create more jobs. While nuclear energy targets have been delayed, China is still on track to become the top global nuclear energy player over the next decade, CNEA said.

China previously aimed to increase total installed nuclear capacity to 58GWe by 2020, up from 35.8GWe at the end of 2017, and to have another 30GWe under construction by the end of 2020. CNEA estimates that China will miss its 58GWe target, but said that capacity is still likely to increase exponentially in the coming decade.

China is expected to have 51 reactors in operation by the end of 2020, with an installed capacity of 52GWe, according to the blue book. More than 17 reactors with combined capacity of 19GWe will be under construction. China is expected to have an installed nuclear capacity of 70GWe by the end of 2025, with a further 30GWe of reactors under construction.

"Planners [in China] had been targeting total installed, operational nuclear power generation capacity of 58GW with 30GW under construction. Now it looks like the operational capacity will be 52GW, or about 10.3 percent short of the objective and that capacity under construction will be 11GW, or 63 percent, below target," said Joseph Jacobelli, an independent energy analyst and executive vice-president for Asia business at global renewable energy company Cenfura Ltd.

Jacobelli told China Daily the shortfall was caused by a number of factors, including stringent requirements on safety checks during construction and slow approval of new reactors. However, as more experience is gained "the smoother the approval and construction processes will be," he added.

CNEA believes nuclear projects in China will focus on the large scale and mass production of domestically developed third-generation reactors including Hualong One, which is already officially in mass production.

China led the world in terms of installed capacity of nuclear power units under construction in 2019 with 13 reactors being built, the blue book said. Nuclear power accounted for 4.88% of total power generated in China in 2019.

Qiu Jiangang, deputy head of the experts committee at CNEA, said earlier that six to eight nuclear reactors will be constructed each year between 2020 and 2025. Costal ergions are expected to be the focus of Chinese nuclear construction over the next five years.