The draft of China’s amended atomic energy law will clarify the regulatory system for nuclear power and promote research and development and the competitiveness of China’s domestic industry, according to the China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA). The draft law was submitted to the Ninth Meeting of the Standing Committee of the 14th National People's Congress for consideration.

The rapid development of atomic energy in China has resulted in more than 10 major nuclear laws and regulations, and made specific provisions on nuclear safety, radioactive pollution prevention and other special fields, CAEA noted. “However, due to the lack of key basic laws, it is not conducive to strengthening top-level design. It is necessary to coordinate the development and safety of atomic energy. The formulation of the atomic energy law will promote its healthy and sustainable development and maintain our reputation as a responsible nuclear power.”

The aim of the Atomic Energy Law is to uphold the concept of the safe development of atomic energy; standardise and promote the development of the nuclear industry, promote the quality and competitive advantage of the atomic energy industry; provide legal protection; and enhance legislative synergy with nuclear safety laws such as the Law on the Prevention and Control of Radioactive Pollution.

The draft has a total of eight articles and 53 subsections. “The main contents include clarifying the principle requirements for the peaceful development and utilisation of atomic energy, clarifying the supervision and management system, promoting the research, development and utilisation of atomic energy, standardising the construction of the nuclear fuel cycle system, strengthening safety supervision and management, and improving import and export management and international cooperation.”

China has the world’s largest nuclear fleet and aims to produce 10% of its electricity from nuclear power by 2035 and 18% by 2060 to enhance energy security and advance decarbonisation goals.

However, a recent report from Norwegian consultancy DNV, Energy Transition Outlook China 2024, forecasts that nuclear power will contribute only 5% of China’s electricity by 2050, representing 29% of global nuclear energy generation. It predicts that China’s power mix will shift from 30% renewables today to 88% by 2050. Oil consumption will halve by 2050 from its 2027 peak, while natural gas will peak in the 2030s before returning to current levels by mid-century.

However, according to CAEA, nuclear generation on the Chinese mainland reached 440,000 GWh in 2023, accounting for nearly 5% of total national electricity output. By the end of 2023, there were 55 operational nuclear power units with 36 approved or under-construction on the Chinese mainland for a total installed capacity of 57 GWe and 44 GWe respectively.