China’s (New)Clear Future by Generation of Change
Creating a Chinese National Energy Modeling System (for the ‘Other Generating Capacity’ category) in its Five-Year Plans 中国五年计划
In the Paris Summit, two of the biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, United States and China collaborated to muster the political will to tackle global climate change. In that Summit, China announced its ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) and commitment to implementing it, as demonstrated in the recent 13th Five-Year Plan. The key targets relating to climate change and energy in the 13th Five-Year Plan are:
1) To reduce energy intensity by 15% compared with 2015.
2) Reduce carbon intensity by 18% compared with 2015.
3) Set energy consumption ceiling at 5 billion tonnes of coal equivalent
4) Raise the proportion of energy consumption derived from non-fossil fuels to 15%.
Regarding the 15% proportion of energy consumption derived from non-fossil fuels in the 13th Five-Year Plan, China’s nuclear power is in the same basket with wind, solar and other renewables and all this non-fossil fuels are collectively classified as “Other Generating Capacity” (OGC Category). China is now rapidly embarking on developing its nuclear sector by becoming a test bed for innovative nuclear technologies.
However, there has been persistent setbacks. China represents eight out of the ten new reactors started up, and six of the seven new building sites this year. 24 out of the 62 nuclear power plants under construction in 14 countries this year are located in China. But three quarters of these projects have been delayed. Apart from delays, there are also many unresolved technical issues with China’s nuclear sector. What would China do about its nuclear waste? Burying it underground may not be viable and a decision to adopt a closed fuel cycle also raises concerns.
Therefore, China needs to consider its long term strategy about relying on nuclear power. This proposal attempts to examine the decoupled discourse between civilian/military nuclear power from China’s context (as the biggest GHG emitter and also a permanent member of the UN Security Council).
Category of the action
Reducing emissions from electric power sector.
What actions do you propose?
China’s (New) Clear Future:
“We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”
-The Earth Charter, Preamble
“Article 6. Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach.
- Take action to avoid the possibility of serious or irreversible environmental harm even when scientific knowledge is incomplete or inconclusive.
- Place the burden of proof on those who argue that a proposed activity will not cause significant harm, and make the responsible parties liable for environmental harm.
- Ensure that decision making addresses the cumulative, long-term, indirect, long distance, and global consequences of human activities. Prevent pollution of any part of the environment and allow no build-up of radioactive, toxic, or other hazardous substances.
- Avoid military activities damaging to the environment."
-The Earth Charter, Article 6
“Article 16. Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace.
- Demilitarize national security systems to the level of a non-provocative defense posture, and convert military resources to peaceful purposes, including ecological restoration.
- Eliminate nuclear, biological, and toxic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction”
-The Earth Charter, Article 16
According to NASA, nuclear power prevented about 64 gigatons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere between 1971 and 2009. As stated in the article, nuclear power cut about 15 times more emissions than it created in that time frame. Other reports argue that nuclear power is the clean, sustainable and responsible way forward. However, in its current form, nuclear power is still inefficient, dangerous and produces waste that stays radioactive for thousands of years.
China is raising the proportion of energy consumption derived from the “Other Generating Capacity Category” (OGC Category, i.e. non-fossil fuels including nuclear) to 15%. Focusing on this OGC Category, I propose an independent study specifically to determine the cost effectiveness of China’s nuclear power by using levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) as comparison with other non-fossil fuels in the OGC Category. This will determine the most optimal OGC Category energy mix to reduce greenhouse gas emission (GHG) by displacing China’s overly dependence on fossil fuels. The report will also investigate the sustainability of China’s nuclear power and the cost of maintaining its current stockpile of nuclear fuel (based on IAEA’s guidelines from the perspective of its entire life cycle-cradle to grave). The study will also include the impact a nuclear reactor meltdown (similar to Fukushima) has on GHG emissions.
Notwithstanding that, with 83% of nuclear material classified for military use, the study will address this twin dilemma of nuclear power and investigate the sustainability of China’s current stockpile of nuclear material used for military purpose and its value for its national security. Article 26 of the UN Charter states that the Security Council has a responsibility for formulating plans for the regulation of armaments in order to ‘promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources….’ and China as a permanent member of the UN Security Council has an obligation to ensure that it diminishes the role and significance of nuclear weapons in all military and security concepts, doctrines and policies. China can also make efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons through identifying and pursuing effective measures to fill the legal gap internationally when pursuing its disarmament and non-proliferation long term objective. Furthermore, from the lenses of sustainability, the catastrophic impact of a nuclear weapon detonation will have humanitarian consequences beyond just individuals, nation states, the global economy but also on the environment and climate change. Therefore, this report will (as a sideline) compare the impact a nuclear weapon detonation in China has on GHG emissions. It will also analyze how the current use of nuclear material in China’s stockpile affect China’s strategic long term objective of nuclear disarmament .
Barriers to China's (New)Clear Future: (Nuclear Energy and the "Other Generating Capacity" Category)
There will be barriers to nuclear energy (as well as the "Other Generating Capacity" Category) [OGC Category]. Although nuclear power is emissions free, it is still inefficient and dangerous. For example, a typical nuclear reactor only uses about 5% of its fuel. The introduction of new fourth generation technology like high-temperature gas-cooled pebble-bed reactors (HTGR), molten-salt reactors fueled by thorium, sodium-cooled fast reactors [to reduce the risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown] and travelling wave reactors (TWR) to reuse depleted uranium as its fuel etc. could ameliorate these problems. These fouth generation technology are now being introduced in China. Further research and development is still definitely required to improve China’s nuclear sector and the funding has be obtained by categorizing nuclear energy as a national strategic industry (with the aim of exporting this technological capability worldwide). Hopefully China will also study the feasibility of converting nuclear materials for military purposes to civilian use.
Another barrier is the depressed global commodity prices for crude oil, gas and coal (fossil fuels) which will pose a cost competitive disadvantage for investing in nuclear energy. In July 2013 China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) set a wholesale power price of CNY 0.43 per kWh (7 US cents/kWh) for all new nuclear power projects, to promote the healthy development of nuclear power and guide investment into the sector. The price is to be kept relatively stable but will be adjusted with technology advances and market factors, though many consider it not high enough to be profitable. Therefore to make nuclear energy viable, China will need to depend on its highly regulated energy market to accelerate and scale up nuclear energy projects by providing subsidies to nuclear energy and the OGC Category. This support will enable nuclear energy (including the other OGC Category) to develop and become cost competitive (i.e. till there is an economy of scale).
The 13th Five-Year Plan formalized in March 2016 included the following nuclear projects and aims:
- Complete four AP1000 units at Sanmen and Haiyang.
- Build demonstration Hualong One reactors at Fuqing and Fangchenggang.
- Start building the demonstration CAP1400 reactor at Rongcheng (Shidaowan).
- Accelerate building Tianwan Phase III (units 5&6).
- Start building a new coastal power plant.
- Active preparatory work for inland nuclear power plants.
- Reach target of 58 GWe nuclear operational by end of 2020, plus 30 GWe under construction then.
- Accelerate and push for building demonstration and large commercial reprocessing plants.
- Strengthen the nuclear fuel security system.
This demonstrate the political will (at top level) as well as the financing made available in the budget to implement these initiatives to develop the nuclear energy sector. It is unprecedented for China to embark on such a massive and tight time frame endeavor for its nuclear energy sector. To set up an entire infrastructure/eco-system of this scale will be a major undertaking, from the viewpoint of project management. Therefore China truly needs the support and expertise of the international community if it is to pull this through successfully.
This proposal will also acknowledge the existing barriers to nuclear energy (as well as the "Other Generating Capacity" Category (OGC Category) and will make recommendations on how to dismantle these barriers or if that's not possible, to provide a more level playing field to the emergence/importance of nuclear energy (as well as the OGC Category) in the existing energy market in China.
Who will take these actions?
The study report can be carried out by independent think tanks/academic institutions who are inter-disciplinary to reflect the multi-faceted nature of China’s nuclear power. These think tanks/academic institutions will undertake this study report based on the impact China’s nuclear power has on its indirect contribution to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Collaboration with China Government Agencies (Providing Legs to the Proposal)
It is essential that this proposal gets a China Government Agency to sponsor it, likely through a form of joint collaboration. To get both legs to walk for this report (by both leg, I mean the civilian use of fissile material for nuclear power plants and the military use of fissile material to produce nuclear weapons), obtaining a China government agency as a sponsor to this report and also as a collaborator will ensure internal buy-in by the China stakeholders on this subject-including the military.
I envisage the study report will be a collaboration with Chinese counterparts like the Energy Research Institute (ERI) of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The report will also need to include input from other China government entities like the China Institute of Atomic Energy (China's IAEA), China Nuclear Energy Association (the quasi-government association representing the nuclear power sector), the NDRC, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of National Defense and other related stakeholders.
I hope the study report will also serve as a platform for civil society (Research Institutes, Academic Institutions, NGOs, NPOs etc.), which makes up a marginal voice in policy decision making in China- for them to participate in the debate to shape China’s nuclear power policy both economically and for its national defense.
Where will these actions be taken?
Firstly, there will be a collaboration between independent think tanks/academic institutions with their Chinese counterparts to gather data and other relevant information pertaining to the study report. Climate modelling to estimate the GHG reductions from the data gathered will be done at laboratories where such facilities are available.
Upon completion of the report, it will then serve as a platform for a fact-based dialogue by a broad set of experts from the scientific community as well as civil society on the future of China’s nuclear power. It will be submitted to the Chinese government for their consideration in formulating policies on nuclear power in the current/ next Five-Year Plan and in its White Paper for National Defence Planning. The report will also shape China’s contribution to the UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament which will be held no later than 2018- to ensure that both wheels of nuclear power move forward in parallel instead of just spinning in circles and going nowhere.
(Note: To involve the Military will require top level involvement/clearances. However there are avenues like the PLA's Academy of Military Science or other military related think tanks like the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies who could assist to facilitate inputs/feedback.)
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
This report will result in the following:
1) Providing fact based data about the levelized cost of China’s nuclear power in relation to other renewable sources (The OGC Category). This will enable China’s policy makers to have a baseline upon which to measure the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies in the OGC Category.
2) Identifying inefficient structures in China’s nuclear sector so as to initiate cost effective innovation to optimize China’s existing nuclear facilities and materials.
3) Informing China’s policy makers how best to navigate its next Five-Year Plan to achieve China’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)-in terms of reducing GHG emissions through formulating the most optimal fuel mix for its energy consumption.
4) Unlocking the value of China’s nuclear material used for military purposes and converting this resource towards reducing GHG emissions.
What are other key benefits?
Apart from mitigating climate change, it will also benefit disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons- which is the other global threat to human existence. Over the next 10 years, world governments will spend a staggering US$ 1 trillion on nuclear weapons globally. Even assuming that nuclear weapons are not used in China, the diversion of resources will be a severe impediment to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and to the meaningful amelioration of the inequality that afflicts society.
What are the proposal’s costs?
China’s “Other Generating Capacity Category” (OGC Category which includes nuclear power) will be presented as average values of levelized costs for generating technologies that are brought online in 2020, which is modeled after the US National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) used in the US Annual Energy Outlook 2015 (AEO2015) Reference case. The U.S. Energy Information Agency states that:
Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is often cited as a convenient summary measure of the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies. It represents the per-kilowatthour cost (in real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. Key inputs to calculating LCOE include capital costs, fuel costs, fixed and variable operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant type. The importance of the factors varies among the technologies. For renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind generation that have no fuel costs and relatively small variable O&M costs, LCOE changes in rough proportion to the estimated capital cost of generation capacity. For technologies with significant fuel cost like nuclear power, both fuel cost and overnight cost estimates significantly affect LCOE (not to mention the waste management cost if we take its full life cycle into consideration). The availability of various incentives can also impact the calculation of LCOE. As with any projection, there is uncertainty about all of these factors and their values can vary regionally and across time as technologies evolve and fuel prices change.
This report will form the basis for China’s National Energy Modeling System with Chinese Characteristics-for the “Other Generating Capacity Category” in its future Five-Year Plans.
This study report is expected to be completed in about 12 months. The time line to debate this proposal through public consultations, workshops, government hearings, expert panel peer reviews etc. is anticipated to be another 6 months before leading up to the UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament, which is expected to be held no later than 2018 (where the negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons will be initiated).
The report will also be submitted to the Chinese policy makers for early deliberation on the optimal non-fossil fuel mix and its contribution to China’s next Five-Year Plan. This is important because there is still no clarity how the various non-fossil fuels derived from renewable sources (The "Other Generating Capacity" Category) will perform- in contributing towards the 15% of China’s energy consumption: hence the urgent need for a Chinese National Energy Modeling System on China's nuclear power (as well as the "Other Generating Capacity" Category) for its Five-Year Energy Outlook.
This report operates in parallel with the other related proposals on climate change as well as with other treaties and conventions on nuclear safety, security, liability, disarmament and non-proliferation:
1) China’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)
2) China’s 13th Five-Year Plan
3) UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC)
4) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)
5) Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident
6) Convention on Assistance in the case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency
7) Convention on Nuclear Safety
8) Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management
9) Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material
10) Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage
11) Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT Rev Con)
12) Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
13) Conference on Disarmament
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(Concerning nuclear abolition, this proposal was inspired by a global group of youths who initiated the grassroots movement Generation of Change)
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