Policy and Economics of China's Nuclear Residential Heating (2024-2025)


Growing demand for efficient space heating solutions in urban areas poses a challenge to energy transition strategies everywhere in the world. China is exploring cleaner and more sustainable energy sources to reduce its carbon footprint and is actively pursuing the integration of heat from nuclear power plants into regional heating systems. 

Nuclear power plants produce a significant amount of surplus heat during operation. This surplus heat can be used to provide reliable, low-carbon energy for heating needs in the residential sector. However, the feasibility, cost-effectiveness and potential environmental and societal impacts of these systems must be assessed before they can be widely implemented in countries such as China and the U.S. 

Project Description

This project team aims to assesses the integration of nuclear heating into China’s regional heating systems, emphasizing market prospects, cost-effectiveness, environmental impacts and social risks. The team will also explore the feasibility of nuclear residential heating in the U.S., particularly in areas served by electric utility companies like Duke Energy in North and South Carolina.

The team will explore the benefits, costs and real and perceived risks of nuclear residential heating to compare them and highlight the priorities for future research, policy design and communications. Through a comprehensive literature review and interviews with expert stakeholders, they will evaluate potential societal impacts, analyze policy barriers and derive policy insights into new technologies.

The team’s research plan consists of five key steps:

  1. Data collection: Team members will gather data on technical aspects of nuclear plants, regional heating infrastructure, energy consumption patterns and urban heating demands.
  2. Market prospects analysis: The team will evaluate the heating market for nuclear heating potential and identify optimal plant locations for efficiency.
  3. Cost-benefit analysis: Team members will perform a detailed cost analysis, including technology-specific capital, operational and maintenance costs for nuclear heating integration. They will also evaluate benefits such as reduced heating expenses, lower greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality and reduced reliance on fossil fuels.
  4. Risk perception and communication: The team will identify and compare the mental models of experts and the general public regarding how they understand the risks of nuclear power for residential heating, informing future risk communication of nuclear heating projects to ensure policy fairness and social sustainability.
  5. Policy analysis: Finally, the team will scrutinize current energy and environmental policies through case studies and on-site expert elicitation interviews, alongside reviewing international best practices. This examination will identify the factors driving or hindering nuclear heating adoption, facilitating the formulation of policy recommendations for sustainable heating solutions.

Anticipated Outputs

Report on feasibility and cost-effectiveness of integrating nuclear heating into China’s regional heating systems; case studies highlighting successful implementations and challenges; academic publications; policy recommendation document

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 6 graduate students and 12 undergraduate students with interests in engineering, environmental science, economics, public policy and energy management. Students with skills in data analysis, modeling, project management and communication will make especially strong candidates. 

Please note that this is a joint Duke-DKU team that will include faculty and students from both institutions. Applicants should be excited to work collaboratively across institutions and should expect to coordinate meetings across time zones.

Throughout the project, both undergraduate and graduate students will receive training in data collection and cost-benefit and risk analysis. They will learn how to conduct interviews with experts and stakeholders regarding a complex issue. This practical experience will bolster their data interpretation, research methods and teamwork skills, forming a strong foundation for academic and career growth.

Graduate students will take on advanced roles, leading subgroups, mentoring undergraduates and supervising specific project components. These roles will deepen their understanding of energy economics, environmental sustainability and policy analysis while nurturing their leadership, communication and project coordination abilities. 

All students are required to participate in initial team activities in the last two weeks of August 2024.


Summer 2024 – Spring 2025

  • Summer 2024: Form subgroups and assign graduate student leaders; define project scope objectives, and deliverables
  • Fall 2024: Collect data on nuclear plants specifications, existing heating infrastructure and heating demands; begin analysis of market prospects and potential nuclear plant locations; perform cost-benefit analysis for integrating nuclear heating
  • Spring 2025: Continue cost-benefit analysis; evaluate social risks associated with nuclear heating; identify key drivers and obstacles for promoting nuclear heating; develop project report and policy recommendations


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available


Image: Shanghai, China, by Lei Han, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image: Shanghai, China, by Lei Han, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Team Leaders

  • Dalia Patino Echeverri, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Yanran Yang, Duke Kunshan University

/graduate Team Members

  • Xiaodong Zhang, Environment-PHD

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Jing Huang, School of Public Administration and Policy, Renmin University of China–Ph.D. Student