China is more determined than ever to become the undisputed world champion of nuclear energy by 2030. In order to achieve this, the Chinese government has undertaken the construction of 6 to 8 nuclear reactors per year by 2025.
It is a sudden turn that the Chinese authorities have decided to take. Going from the bad global student to the most virtuous requires strong measures, ambitious projects and heavy investments. China is one of those countries that bet on everything nuclear when others, like Germany, want to break away from it. Today, many cities in China are suffocating and disappearing under thick clouds of pollution causing disease among populations. The Chinese government no longer wants it. To do this, he decided to gradually give up the use of coal in order to move towards a clean energy transition. The country's share of electricity production using coal is now 64% against barely 5% for nuclear. In addition to responding to unavoidable climate emergencies and complying with the standards decided by the international community, it is strategic for China to diversify its sources of energy production in order to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels but also in order to better meet constantly growing domestic demand.
However, this acceleration in the pace of nuclear power plant construction is leading to a worrying reduction in the stock of Chinese uranium. Within 5 years, China could run out of fuel. According to Chinese nuclear technology specialists: "In 2040, the Chinese nuclear energy sector will consume more uranium than all of what was produced worldwide in 2019".
It is not surprising then that the Chinese authorities anticipate a possible shortage and seek all possible means to prevent it. A dependence on uranium supplies would be just as dangerous as a dependence on fossil fuels.
Among the various avenues considered, there is one that could offer interesting perspectives. China plans to extract uranium from seawater; and this, within ten years. Even if this revolutionary technique is still poorly mastered and of a rather high cost compared to the required yields, it is considered promising. In any case, this is the opinion of the Chinese Academy of Physical Engineering in charge of the project for which the deposits are immense. As for the Institute of Nuclear Technology and New Energies , it considers that: "The development of the technique of extracting uranium from seawater should become a guarantee of uranium resources for the development of nuclear energy ".
Until this technique, or another, is born and can guarantee energy autonomy to China, the country must find its fuel elsewhere. And what better choice than to turn to its new privileged partner: Russia? Beijing and Moscow have enjoyed excellent relations for a few years and nuclear energy is an area offering them the possibility of further strengthening these links in a geopolitical and geo-economic context which tends more and more towards the construction of two war-style blocks. cold. The construction of nuclear reactors in China by the Russian operator, Rosatom, materializes this strategic merger. As Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian recently said, “This is the largest China-Russia nuclear cooperation project to date and represents the highest level of cooperation between the two. country ”.
In the end, China remains on course and intends to decarbonize its economy on a forced march. Helped in this by the international prices of uranium which are currently at their lowest and which allow it to obtain more cheaply from its Kazakh and Uzbek neighbors. But what will happen when low cost uranium resources gradually decrease in correlation with an increase in global demand? And according to experts, this situation should emerge in the coming decade. Obviously, China is thinking about it and has some leads.
As for the NGOs which fight for the environment, they have not finished monitoring China. After coal-fired power stations, the new area of concern will be the processing and storage of ever-increasing quantities of nuclear waste.
Population: 1.4 billion inhabitants.
Area: 9.597 million km²
Common borders: Mongolia, Russia, India, Burma, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Bhutan, Laos, Tajikistan, Afghanistan