10 June 2021


China Overtook France in Nuclear Power Generation

WNISR, 10 June 2021

In 2020, China generated more electricity from nuclear power plants than France and accedes to the second rank, behind the United States, of the largest nuclear energy producers in the world, according to concordant data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the OECD’s International Energy Agency (IEA) and the respective energy administrations in China and France.

However, wind and solar together injected twice as much power into the Chinese grid than nuclear, and the nuclear share in the electricity mix is stable at best and possibly slightly shrinking for the first time in a decade.

The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant — The Franco-Chinese project is operational, while the French pendant in Flamanville is under construction since 2012. — Photo by EDF

In China, 49 nuclear reactors—an additional one was in Long-Term Outage—generated 366 TWh (terawatthours or billion kilowatthours) gross or about 345 TWh net, while France’s production slumped by almost 12 percent to 335 TWh net, a 27-year low. China started up two new reactors in 2020 with Tianwan-5 and Fuqing-5 and increased nuclear generation by 5 percent, while France closed its two oldest units at Fessenheim and currently operates 56 reactors. One more reactor was started up in China in May 2021.

While France’s nuclear fleet is ageing—it has not started up any new unit since 1999 when Civaux-2 was first connected to the grid—and averages now 36 years of operation, China’s fleet is brandnew with an average age of only 8.5 years.

France is struggling with numerous technical ageing issues and the share of nuclear power in its electricity mix has plunged from a record 78.3 percent in 2005 to 67.1 percent in 2020. The COVID-19 crisis did not help, but obviously did not trigger the decline.

In China, nuclear plants contributed only about 4.9 percent to the national power mix. After growing slowly from 1.8 percent in 2010, the share peaked in 2019 at 4.9 percent. According to provisional analysis by the Chinese Energy Administration, nuclear energy generation has difficulties keeping up with the surges in wind and solar output of 15.1 percent and 16.6 percent respectively. Wind turbines generated 466.5 TWh gross, a quarter more than nuclear reactors, and combined with the solar output of 261.1 TWh, the two renewable energy techologies generated twice as much power as the nuclear fleet.