An Australian nuclear campaigner says China has the potential to become a world leader in the development of nuclear power plants. Scientists in China say they have created nuclear fuel reprocessing technology, which could effectively end concerns over the supply of uranium. They say the breakthrough by China's National Nuclear Corporation could mean the country will have a uranium supply which could last three thousand years.
Presenter: Christine Webster
Speakers: Outgoing Chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Ziggy Switkowski; Yang Ailun, Campaign Manager of Climate and Energy with Greenpeace China
WEBSTER: China, the world's second largest economy, says it wants to get 15 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.
And according to state media reports the Government also wants to increase its nuclear power capacity to up to 80 gigawatts in the same time frame to account for about five per cent of the nation's total installed power capacity. Outgoing Chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Ziggy Switkowski says China already has 12 working nuclear power reactors and 24 others are under construction.
SWITKOWSKI: Seems to be that, the Chinese have many programs in these areas. They have a national commitment, to increasing their use of nuclear power in the decades ahead and they have some world-leading engineers and scientists on this task. So I think they've probably made progress in the design of next-generation reactors and in the complex matters of management of the fuel.
WEBSTER: Nuclear power at present only provides China with two percent of its national energy supply.
Dr Switkowski says western countries may have been the first to developed the nuclear reactor, but China has the potential to become experts in their design in the future.
SWITKOWSKI: The technology for nuclear reactors is sophisticated. It's been developed by the west, the US, Europe, particularly France and the UK, Russia and Japan. But the Chinese are catching up quickly and where they are likely to take the lead is that they're building reactors at the moment faster than any other countries.
WEBSTER: Campaign Manager of Climate and Energy with Greenpeace China, Yang Ailun says environmentalists will need a bit of time to examine the environmental impact of the nuclear fuel reprocessing technology. But she says it does not address safety concerns associated with the nuclear power industry in China.
YANG: In China the operation of nuclear facilities is not really transparent so it's very difficult for public or environmental organisations to actually access data or information about whether these facilities are operated safely. However just in general, nuclear power plants they do create negative environmental impacts for the areas around them.
WEBSTER: Ms Yang says China should be focussing on implementing other forms of cleaner energy.
YANG: There is still enormous space for China to improve energy efficiency. There's a lot of energy that's simply wasted in China. On the other hand, we're seeing very encouraging developments of renewable energy industry in China, like wind and solar.
WEBSTER: Ziggy Switkowski argues greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced if the use of nuclear energy becomes more widespread across the world. Dr Switkowski says Australia is lagging behind its Asian neighbours by not developing nuclear energy.
SWITKOWSKI: In our part of the world we already have countries like China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, India and Pakistan, that are nuclear powered, but in addition countries like Vietnam have already ordered their first two reactors, Thailand and Indonesia have legislation that permits the building of the nuclear industry. So we're going to be in a part of the world that is strongly nuclear-enabled, and we are certainly the exception.