China has begun on Sunday operating the nation’s first new nuclear power plant since the Fukushima disaster in neighboring Japan in March 2011 raised questions worldwide about the safety of nuclear power. 

According to a report by United Press International, the Hongyanhe nuclear power plant, located in Northeast China 68 miles from the port city of Dalian, marks the first phase of a billion-dollar plan to create four power plants. The project, which broke ground in 2007, is estimated to be finished by the end of 2015 and will cost roughly $7.96 billion.

When completed, the four reactors in phase one of the project will be able to generate 30 billion kilowatt hours of electric power every year. Phase two, which will include two more power generation units, is slated for completion by the end of 2016 and will generate an additional 14 billion kilowatts of electricity.

Currently, most of China still relies on coal as its main energy resource. According to research by KPMG during 2004-2008, carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil and natural gas provided roughly 90 percent of China’s energy. Hydroelectric, wind and nuclear power all accounted for the remaining 10 percent, with nuclear power accounting for less than 5 percent.

China’s nuclear energy development is a big priority on the government’s agenda not only as an alternate energy source but also as a potential industry for export.  

In order for China to meet its goal of cutting carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2015, alternative energy is a necessary development. According to the Five-Year Plan ending in 2015, China also intends to push the use of nonfossil fuels to 15 percent of the country’s total energy use by 2020.

China also has robust plans for the reactor export market. According to a report by Reuters, in 2000, China first exported a 300 megawatt reactor to Pakistan. By 2011, a second one was sent to Pakistan and began its commercial operation; there are plans for two more from China. Now China is planning to make reactor deals all over the world and is pursuing leads in South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

“China arguably has the most robust nuclear building program in the world, and they’re continuing to demonstrate to the rest of the world that nuclear power plants can be built both efficiently and on schedule,” Donald Hoffman, president of Excel Services Corp, a U.S.-based company that provides services to the nuclear industry, said.

While the U.S. is currently the world's top nuclear power user, China’s future plans for nuclear power will eventually surpass America by 2030.

And while fear among Chinese citizens over radiation still exists (particularly as a result of Fukushima radiation scares), China may be close to developing “clean” nuclear power. China is working on developing nuclear power from thorium, instead of the usual uranium, to power reactors. China’s thorium supplies are estimated to be enough to fulfill the nation’s electricity needs for 20,000 years, according to a report by the Telegraph. The main benefit of thorium is that it produces far less toxic waste and cannot create the same problems that occurred with Fukushima.