First, China became a net coal importer in 2009 for the first time in over two decades. Total imports rose to 240 million short tons in 2011, about 18 percent higher than 2010 levels, primarily from Indonesia and Australia, which combined had over a 50 percent market share of imports last year.
Secondly, and more ominously, Chinese experts say many of the nation’s coal and uranium deposits are co-located and that coal extraction is ruining the value of the nuclear fuel, adding that the uranium is accidentally ending up in coal-fired power stations, which belch radioactive ash that is falling on surrounding cities.
The disparity has produced conflict between China’s coal and gas sectors, but there is little doubt who the authorities support. China Institute of Atomic Energy Professor Gu Zhongmao, a top adviser to China National Nuclear Corp. said that balancing the interests of the two different energy sectors was proving a headache for the central government while the CNNC's 821 Factory former head Song Xuebin, a facility that produces uranium fuel, has filed a complaint with the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference alleging that the coal mines were encroaching on the uranium deposits.
It is an issue that cannot be sidestepped much longer. China currently has 15 operating nuclear power plants (NPPs) that provide roughly 12.5 gigawatts of generating capacity, and another 26 reactors currently under construction that will add another 30 gigawatts to the national grid. According to the pro nuclear industry World Nuclear Association, “additional reactors are planned, including some of the world's most advanced, to give a five- or six-fold increase in nuclear capacity to at least 60 gigawatts by 2020, then 200 gigawatts by 2030, and 400 gigawatts by 2050.” Chinese mining will have to be ramped up to support both the nuclear and coal industries, so the problem of commingled fuel and pollution issues arising from it can only increase.