Electric and Nuclear Power
From 1949 to the mid-1980s, China pursued an inconsistent
policy on the development of electric power. Significant
underinvestment in the readjustment period, starting in 1979,
caused serious power shortages into the mid-1980s. Although China's
hydroelectric power potential was the world's largest and the power
capacity was the sixth largest, 1985 estimates showed that demand
exceeding supply by about 40 billion kilowatt hours per year.
Because of power shortages, factories and mines routinely operated
at 70- to 80-percent capacity, and in some cases factories only ran
for 3 or 4 days a week. Whole sections of cities were frequently
blacked out for hours.
China's leaders began to acknowledge the seriousness of the power
shortage in 1979. The government took no positive steps until the
mid-1980s, when it announced import of 10,000 megawatts of thermal
power-plant capacity to serve the east's large population centers.
It also launched a nationwide campaign to create an additional
5,000 megawatts of electric-power capacity. Under the Seventh FiveYear Plan, China planned to add 30,000 to 35,000 megawatts of
capacity, a 55-to-80-percent increase over previous five-year
The leadership decided to build thermal power plants to meet
the country's electricity needs, because such plants were
relatively inexpensive and required construction lead-times of only
three to six years. In 1985 approximately 68 percent of generating
capacity was derived from thermal power, mostly coal-fired, and
observers estimated that by 1990 its share would increase to 72
percent. The use of oil-fired plants peaked in the late 1970s, and
by the mid-1980s most facilities had been converted back to coal.
Only a few thermal plants were fueled by natural gas. Hydropower
accounted for only about 30 percent of generating capacity.
Observers expected that during the Seventh Five-Year Plan, China
would continue to emphasize the development of thermal power over
hydropower, because of the need to expand the power supply quickly
to keep pace industrial growth. However, in the long term,
hydropower gradually was to be given priority over thermal power.
In 1986 China's total generating capacity was 76,000 megawatts:
52,000 from thermal plants and 24,000 from hydropower sources.
China planned to construct large generators with capacities of 100
to 300 megawatts to increase thermal power capacity. The new,
larger generators would be much more efficient than generators with
capacities of only 50 megawatts or less. With the larger
generators, China would only have to increase coal consumption by
40 percent to achieve a 54-percent increase in generating capacity
by 1990. Foreign observers believed that as China increased its
grid network it could construct power plants close to coal mines,
then run power lines to the cities. This method would eliminate the
costly and difficult transportation of coal to smaller urban
plants, which had already created a significant pollution problem.
From 1949 to 1986, China built at least 25 large, 130 medium,
and about 90,000 small-sized hydropower stations. According to the
Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power, China's 1983 annual
power output was 351.4 billion kilowatt hours, of which 86 billion
kilowatt hours were generated by hydropower. While construction of
thermal plants was designed as a quick remedy for alleviating
China's power shortages, the development of hydropower resources
was considered a long-term solution. The primary areas for the
construction of hydropower plants were the upper Huang He,the upper
and middle stream tributaries and trunk of the Chang Jiang, and the
Hongshui He in the upper region of the Zhu Jiang Basin
(see fig. __, Fuels, Power, Minerals, and Metals, 1983). The construction of
new hydropower plants was expected to be a costly and lengthy
process, undertaken with assistance from the United States, Canada,
Kuwait, Austria, Norway, France, and Japan.
To augment its thermal and hydropower capacity, China was
developing a nuclear energy capability. China's nuclear industry
began in the 1950s with Soviet assistance. Until the early 1970s,
it had primarily military applications. However, in August 1972,
reportedly by directive of Premier Zhou Enlai, China began
developing a reactor for civilian energy needs. After Mao Zedong's
death in 1976, support for the development of nuclear power
increased significantly. Contracts were signed to import two
French-built plants, but economic retrenchment and the Three Mile
Island incident in the United States abruptly halted the nuclear
program. Following three years of "investigation and
demonstration," the leadership decided to proceed with nuclear
power development. By 1990 China intended to commit between 60 to
70 percent of its nuclear industry to the civilian sector. By 2000
China planned to have a nuclear generating capacity of 10,000
megawatts, accounting for approximately 5 percent of the country's
total generating capacity.
In 1986 a 300-megawatt domestically designed nuclear power
plant was under construction at Qinshan, Zhejiang Province, with
completion planned for 1989. Although most of the equipment in the
plant was domestic, a number of key components were imported. The
Seventh Five-Year Plan called for constructing two additional 600-
megawatt reactors at Qinshan. Another plant, with two 900 megawatt
reactors, was under construction at Daya Bay in Guangdong Province.
The Daya Bay project was a joint venture with Hong Kong, with
considerable foreign loans and expertise.
Data as of July 1987