The Politics of Nuclear Energy in China, Oct 12

With 14 nuclear reactors in operation and another 27 under construction, China is rushing to increase its nuclear generation capacity as a step to secure its rising energy demand, meet its rising electricity demand, and mitigate climate change threats. Is nuclear energy indeed the future? It depends: the IAEA, IEA and the Chinese government would like to emphasise that nuclear power is efficient, reliable, clean, safe and large enough to be used as base-load to, if not solve, at least, alleviate the pressures. Some see the current move as mere ‘nuclear amnesia’ because nuclear power will not be able to meet the growing demand or cut carbon emission sufficiently to make a dent in the two main problems, especially in China. Some would say, ‘nuclear power alone won’t get us to where we need to be, but we won’t get there without it.’ Others, especially against the background of the Fukushima nuclear accident and a high-speed train accident in China, argue it is too dangerous and too irresponsible to push nuclear energy program construction.

Can China do it? Does the country have the political, economic, technical and human capacity to make nuclear power a viable option? Economy, energy and environment challenges are pressing for a very large developing country; they are inextricably linked. These challenges are not just technical or economic; nor are they unique to any single country. Energy is a political issue and pits one group of interests against another.

The book is about the politics of nuclear energy development in China and seeks to understand the constellation of political forces in China that shaped its nuclear energy development. It is organised around five topics: who decides (politics); who pays (economics); whose technology; how to fuel it; and who cares (environment). It concludes in agreement with an observation of a Western reporter in 1981, ‘a final cause of China’s energy crisis is poor coordination, planning, and management’. Even in the nuclear industry, ‘fragmented institutions’ in the central government, competing interests of ministries, bureaucracies and provinces, ‘unbalanced influence’ between the weak government agencies and powerful corporations, and a weak central government vs. rich provinces characterises its politics. The response to the Fukushima nuclear accident provides public evidence of the fragmented and warring politics that make the rush into a nuclear age so unpredictable.

Xu Yi-chong is a research professor of politics and public policy at Griffith University. Before joining Griffith University in January 2007, Xu was professor of political science at St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada. She is author of The Politics of Nuclear Energy in China (2010); Electricity Reform in China, India and Russia: The World Bank Template and the Politics of Power (2004); Powering China: Reforming the electric power industry in China (2002); co-author of Inside the World Bank: Exploding the Myth of the Monolithic Bank (with Patrick Weller 2009) and The Governance of World Trade: International Civil Servants and the GATT/WTO, (with Patrick Weller 2004); and editor of Nuclear Energy Development in Asia (2011) and The Political Economy of Sovereign Wealth Funds (2010). All these projects were supported by the research grants from either Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) or Australian Research Council.