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China's Nuclear Inventory Continues to Surge in 2024

China is expanding and diversifying its nuclear capabilities in both civilian and military sectors, boosting its global dominance in nuclear energy and weapons.



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China April 9, 2024. (Inside image ©Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

In the realm of civilian nuclear activity, China began construction of four new nuclear reactors in 2024. The Standing Committee of China's State Council, its chief administrative authority, approved the construction of two Hualong One reactors at the Taipingling and the Jinqimen sites. Chinese Premier Li Qiang chairs China's Standing Committee.

China General Nuclear runs the Taipingling nuclear power plant in the coastal southeast province of Guangdong. This is where Units 3 and 4 will be built. Units 1 and 2 will be constructed at the China National Nuclear Corporation-operated Jinqimen nuclear power plant in Zhejiang. The eastern coastal province is located along the East China Sea. 

Unit 1 is scheduled to commence production in 2025. The plant will eventually host six nuclear reactors. The Jinqimen plant is still in the pre-construction stage and will eventually host six units.

Building up an outsized presence in nuclear power, China and Russia account for almost 70% of new nuclear plants in the planning/construction stage globally. According to the Japan Electric Power Information Center, in January 2023, there were 110 third-generation nuclear reactors. China accounted for the most number of reactors (46), followed by Russia (30). 

Considering these numbers as a critical indicator, China and Russia seem set to boost their dominance in the global nuclear power sector. After all, it is the most vital key to future energy security. This concurrently will usurp their influence multifariously in global geopolitics.

Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in China. (©EDF Group )

Global Nuclear Dominance

In the realm of military nuclear activity, China's official line regarding its nuclear capability is "maintaining nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required to safeguard national security." But such a claim stands completely exposed. 

As per the latest United States Pentagon annual report "Military and Security Developments Involving China," the rapid expansion of China's nuclear arsenal is extremely worrisome. Estimated to be 500 warheads, the number is set to double by 2030. 

This confirms an earlier account by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The steep rise in China's nuclear arsenal was a key SIPRI observation per its June 2023 annual assessment of the world's nuclear forces. Most of the new nuclear warheads to have entered the arsenals of any major military power from 2022 to 2023 were those of China.


SIPRI's estimate of the size of China's nuclear arsenal has increased from 350 warheads in January 2022 to 410 in January 2023. And it is expected to keep growing. These warheads are assigned to its operational land- and sea-based ballistic missiles and to nuclear-configured aircraft. 

Over the coming decade, the number of Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is likely to reach or perhaps even exceed the numbers held by either Russia or the US. China's air-delivered, land-based, and sea-based nuclear weapons constitute the three legs of its nascent nuclear triad. The total number of Chinese ICBM launchers exceeds 450. These include training launchers, new launchers under construction, and operational launchers. Approximately 142 of these are thought to be operational.

President Xi Jinping (right) and Premier Li Qiang attend the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress in China. March 11, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (©Kyodo)

Multiple-Warhead ICBMs

It remains unclear how China ultimately plans to operate its new silos. Whether they will all be filled, how many warheads each missile would carry, and whether a portion of them could potentially have conventional strike roles. China has four basic types of ICBMs. Namely, they are the DF-4, the DF-5, the DF-31, and the DF-41, with variants of each type. Most have a single warhead. However, a smaller but growing number of its ICBMs are capable of delivering multiple warheads.

An earlier version (2022) of the Pentagon's report to the US Congress on Chinese military and security developments projected that China might field a stockpile of roughly 1,500 warheads by 2035. This projection relied on several assumptions about China's future force posture and plutonium production.

This decade is set to witness how China aims to expand, modernize, and diversify its nuclear capabilities, in the military and civilian sectors. Compared to the past decade, China's nuclear modernization has grown multifold, both in scale and complexity. This has caused much anxiety to its Asian neighbors.


Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Learn more about Dr Chansoria and follow her column "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on X (formerly Twitter). The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which she is affiliated.