The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the leading science research organ in the Asian country, has announced a decade-long program in applied scientific research that lays special emphasis on four key areas, namely space science, information technology, energy and health.

Titled Innovation 2020, the new program is an extension of the Knowledge Innovation Program (KIP) initiated by CAS in 1998. The research agenda supported by the plan is expected to translate into breakthrough achievements that will power the economic superpower's growth engine and also help it meet critical requirements such as clean energy and public health objectives.

Under the initial projects of the program, the academy would set up a series of research centers, including a space science center, a center for clean and efficient use of coal, and a research center for geo-science devices. Three science parks will also be established in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, with the objective of accelerating the commercialization of scientific and technological research to create marketable products.

Nature reports that Innovation 2020 will initiate pilot projects in 7 key areas in 2011: nuclear fusion and nuclear-waste management; stem cells and regenerative medicine; calculating the flux of carbon between land, oceans and atmosphere; materials science; information technology; public health and the environment.

As a first step towards realizing its dream of developing clean nuclear energy, the Academy also launched plans of developing a thorium-fueled molten-salt nuclear reactor, which when functional will be a precious alternative safe fuel source. As Richard Martin writes in Wired magazine, Designing a thorium-based molten-salt reactor could place China at the forefront of the race to build environmentally safe, cost-effective and politically palatable reactors.

Shortly after the Academy announced its focus areas, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that CAS will establish a world-class research platform and base for study of stem cell and regenerative medicine encompassing four research centers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Kunming and leveraging the resources of 17 other institutions around the country. Zhou Qi, the chief scientist in the stem cell research project at the Academy is reported to have told the China Daily that Chinese scientists expect to hail a major breakthrough in the area sometime soon in the coming decade. The support from Innovation 2020 will certainly be crucial in heralding the same and moving towards large scale application in clinical treatment.

*Correction - In the fourth paragraph the Scientific American was mistakenly cited rather than Nature.