China is scaling up its nuclear power plans in a big way. Its goal is to build 70 gigawatts worth of nuclear capacity by 2020 — 50 percent higher than its 2020 target was five years ago. It looks like uranium, still unpopular in the U.S. is finding big fans in Asia.
Achieving this goal will cost the country as much as $59 billion for 28 more reactors — 20 of which are already in the process of being built. As of this year, China is home for one-third of the world’s nuclear power construction. And the industry looks pretty healthy. Nuclear is thriving in its relatively lax regulatory environment. In the U.S., projects can be bound up in red tape for years before inevitably being abandoned. In China, plants can be built in just four years, like clockwork.
But the country isn’t the largest nuclear generator in the world, it’s simply the fastest growing. In fact, nuclear only provides about 2 percent of the energy used in the country, compared to 19.7 percent in the U.S., and more than 75 percent in France.
China still consumes more coal than any nation on earth — but it knows that has to change. That’s one of the reasons it’s pushing so hard to build rectors — to limit reliance on dirty power while also expanding the energy supply to meet skyrocketing demand. After the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen went bust, China said it would ramp up efforts to cut emissions. Nuclear could help it make good on its word.
The difficulties associated with wind and solar energy in China have also made nuclear look more appealing. Without a well-developed electrical grid, much less a Smart Grid with adequate storage, fully harnessing distributed sources of energy is somewhat of a fool’s errand. The country is still investing in solar and wind — developing a market presence in the U.S. in both areas, as well (think SunTech) — but not as much as in nuclear.
China’s latest nuclear strategy will be detailed in full later this year. As it stands, the country is building more than twice as much new power as its closest competitor, Russia. In addition to delivering the power generated to its own people, China hopes to export it to its neighbors, including India, South Korea, and Russia — each of which are building more reactors than any other three countries outside of China. By selling nuclear energy abroad, Chinese companies will be competing directly with France’s Areva and General Electric.
Around the world, 370 gigawatts-worth of nuclear facilities are in operation. Another 200 gigawatts are currently under construction.