Beijing: With the stepping up of construction of nuclear power stations, China would overtake the US as the world's largest consumer of uranium before 2030 as the country's imports are set to rise sharply to feed a growing atomic industry, a top Chinese energy official has said.

"It is a question of time. We will not have to wait long for it to be true. It should happen sometime before 2030," Qian Zhimin, Deputy Director of the National Energy Administration, told the state-run 'China Daily'.

The China Nuclear Energy Association had said in July last year that the country plans to build more than 60 nuclear reactors by 2020, with each requiring 400 tonnes of uranium to start operating, the Daily reported.

China has approved construction of 10 more mega nuclear reactors in addition to 25 currently being built to step up its nuclear power generation capacity to 86 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 with a massive investment of USD 121.5 billion.

China is expected to raise its 2020 target for the nuclear power industry to 86 GW or five per cent of its power generation with an annual investment of USD 10.6 billion.

In line with the country's move to accelerate development of the industry, China National NuclearCorp (CNNC), plans to invest USD 121.5 billion in nuclear projects by 2020.

China, the world's second-largest economy, aims to get 15 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

Nuclear power will have to account for five per cent of power generation by then, Xiao Xinjian, a researcher at China's Energy Research Institute said.

The massive expansion of the nuclear power plants was expected to create a massive demand for uranium resources around the world.

Last year, China imported 17,136 tonnes of uranium, which was three times the quantity of the previous year, according to the nation's customs agency.

For years, nations like the US, France and Japan have been the world's biggest uranium consumers.

China has stepped up its construction of nuclear power stations during the past five years in an attempt to reduce its reliance on coal and to support its attempts to fight climate change.

Qian said that, by 2020, nuclear power could be contributing "7 to 8 per cent" of the nation's electricity, which is higher than the government's target of five per cent.

Statistics show China's annual consumption of uranium will reach 20,000 tonnes by 2020, about one third of global output in 2009.

It is estimated that China is currently producing about 1,000 tonnes of uranium a year, which is about half of its current demand.

China is now drafting its plans for uranium purchases during the next 10 years, said Qian, who refused to go into details.

A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency said China's proven uranium deposits extend to about 100,000 tonnes, which could be used up by 2020.

While China's demand for uranium keeps growing, some international experts have said the cost of the commodity could rise as well.

Qian, however, disagreed. "The majority of uranium deals worldwide are done through forward contracts, rather than spot transactions and China has always had a long-term plan or its uranium demand and purchases," he said.

(Agencies)