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CHINA ENERGY GROWTH: IMPLICATIONS FOR NUCLEAR

From the Editors
"China is a sleeping dragon," said Napoleon. "Let him sleep. When he awakes, he will shake the world."

The dragon is awake. According to figures just released by the International Energy Agency, China has just surpassed the United States as the world’s largest consumer of energy. In fact, things have been headed in that direction for some time. Predictions were that China would overtake the U.S. by 2015, but the slump in the economy, coupled with China’s shrugging off the downturn, have pushed China past us five years ahead of schedule.  Ten years ago, the Chinese consumed only half as much energy as the U.S. In another twenty years, they could be consuming twice as much.

What does this mean for nuclear?  In fact it probably assures that the power of the atom will be the dominant source of energy in the 21st century. Although China now relies heavily on coal, they are currently building 23 reactors, with plans to build 100 more by 2030 on the drawing board. With the entire Chinese rail system straining under the task of ferrying coal around the country, the prospect of switching to uranium – which has 16,000 times the energy density – obviously makes sense to the Chinese.

But this is only the beginning. So far the Chinese have been content to buy reactors from other countries – Areva, Westinghouse, and Russia’s Rosatom models. But the Chinese are obviously working on their own designs as well. When they roll out their model – probably within five years – they will immediately move to the forefront as one of the world’s dominant competitor. Even the Japanese, the Russians and the Koreans will feel the heat.

Nuclear power is on the verge of becoming the first major technology since the time of the American Revolution in which the United States has not spearheaded world development. France, Japan, Korea and now China are positioned to beat us to it. The consequences if realized –
political, economic and historic – are going to be enormous.

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6 Responses to “CHINA ENERGY GROWTH: IMPLICATIONS FOR NUCLEAR”

  1. SteveK9 Says:

    Well, I think the US did ‘spearhead world development’ of nuclear power. Practically all plants in the world outside of the old Soviet Union are based on American designs, including Korea, Japan, France. I would agree though that it looks very much like we won’t be leading the ‘renaissance’ and the emergence of nuclear as the primary energy source for the world. China is still working from US designs as it appears that their ‘standard’ reactor in the future is likely to be the CAP1400, a variant of the Westinghouse AP1000 that is currently being built. But, as they build up their infrastructure and gain experience from actually building the things I think we can expect more original work to come from within China. The Chinese have also agreed to purchase two fast reactors from Russia the BN800. Breeders (to use an unpopular term) whether based on uranium or thorium are the real next frontier. We can still get in that game, but the current slow pace and poor quality of decision-making in the US are not encouraging.

  2. SteveK9 Says:

    Well, I think the US did ‘spearhead world development’ of nuclear power. Practically all plants in the world outside of the old Soviet Union are based on American designs, including Korea, Japan, France. I would agree though that it looks very much like we won’t be leading the ‘renaissance’ and the emergence of nuclear as the primary energy source for the world. China is still working from US designs as it appears that their ‘standard’ reactor in the future is likely to be the CAP1400, a variant of the Westinghouse AP1000 that is currently being built. But, as they build up their infrastructure and gain experience from actually building the things I think we can expect more original work to come from within China. The Chinese have also agreed to purchase two fast reactors from Russia the BN800. Breeders (to use an unpopular term) whether based on uranium or thorium are the real next frontier. We can still get in that game, but the current slow pace and poor quality of decision-making in the US are not encouraging.

  3. SteveK9 Says:

    Well, I think the US did ‘spearhead world development’ of nuclear power. Practically all plants in the world outside of the old Soviet Union are based on American designs, including Korea, Japan, France. I would agree though that it looks very much like we won’t be leading the ‘renaissance’ and the emergence of nuclear as the primary energy source for the world. China is still working from US designs as it appears that their ‘standard’ reactor in the future is likely to be the CAP1400, a variant of the Westinghouse AP1000 that is currently being built. But, as they build up their infrastructure and gain experience from actually building the things I think we can expect more original work to come from within China. The Chinese have also agreed to purchase two fast reactors from Russia the BN800. Breeders (to use an unpopular term) whether based on uranium or thorium are the real next frontier. We can still get in that game, but the current slow pace and poor quality of decision-making in the US are not encouraging.

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