China’s State Council last month approved the |construction of two nuclear reactors, signalling that the post-Fukushima lull in China’s nuclear industry expansion is over.

China’s goal is to more than double its nuclear capacity by 2020, greatly reducing its dependence on coal, which currently supplies 70 per cent of its energy needs but with obvious environmental costs.

The re-start will mean |billions of dollars in potential new business for Chinese and foreign companies over the next decade. Chinese companies are also involved in building nuclear plants overseas as well as developing reactors for export, putting a whole new twist to the “Made in China” tag.

China’s top leaders are encouraging state-owned nuclear companies to pursue overseas business, while private Chinese companies have been busily developing homegrown reactors for potential exports.

Premier Li Keqiang was quoted in January as saying the government aims to turn China into a “powerful nuclear industry player”, while at the same time stressing that it would be careful to monitor the safety of the expanding domestic industry.

The government plans to increase the number of power plants from 15 to 71 and boost its nuclear capacity from 21 gigawatts to more than 50 gigawatts by 2020. By 2030, the capacity is slated to reach 150 gigawatts, surpassing the US’s current figure of 100 gigawatts.

Chinese companies are already involved in building nuclear power plants in Europe that are based on US and German technologies. They include a role in building Romania’s first-ever nuclear power plant, discussions with Turkey about building a plant there, and the signing of an agreement with the British government last October allowing Chinese companies to own and operate nuclear power stations in the UK.

China’s homegrown third-generation reactor, the Hualong-1, which was approved for use by China’s State Council on April 15, may also be included in a joint project with Pakistan in Karachi and a project in Argentina.

Commentators say China’s re-start of its nuclear industry will do more than just re-balance energy production from dirty coal to clean nuclear. They say it also demonstrates to the Chinese public the country’s leadership confidence in a major industry, at home and abroad, and at a time when many are questioning the sustainability of China’s growth model.

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