Have fears over the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan slowed the drive toward the construction of new nuclear plants? Not in China.
While PACE reported recently on a moderate global slowdown in nuclear construction, nations such as China, India, South Korea, and Russia, all of whom have appetites for more baseload capacity, are poised to grow their nuclear power portfolios. A November report from the International Energy Agency, in fact, projects that global nuclear capacity will reach 580 GW by 2035, up from 370 GW today.
Most intriguing perhaps is China, whose energy demands are expected to grow by a staggering 60% by 2035. This presents Chinese energy planners with an urgent need to add reliable capacity to the national grid. Compounding the problem is that China is heavily leveraged on coal-fired power, with 83% of the nation’s electricity coming from coal. Hydropower represents 14% of China’s portfolio, while nuclear power contributes only 2% to total capacity. In other words, China has fallen far behind its competitors in adding nuclear generation.
Today, China has only 15 nuclear reactors in operation. The U.S., by comparison, has 104 units working today, with units in north Alabama and east Georgia scheduled to come online within the next decade. The Chinese are hard at work closing the gap, however, with 26 nuclear reactor units under construction, all of which are expected to be operational by 2015. When complete, these units will bring China’s total nuclear capacity to more than 37,000 MW.
According to the World Nuclear Association, China is just getting started. The Chinese government has proposed 120 new nuclear plants, with 51 already in the planning stage. Consider that India, South Korea, and Russia – the other three nations with aggressive nuclear power plans – combined have only 47 nuclear plants in the planning stage. The result is that China is expected to reach 200 GW of nuclear capacity by 2030 and 400 GW by 2050.
The bullish position on nuclear power by the Chinese provides heavy contrast to nations such as Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom that have committed to either draw down their nuclear power capacity or eliminate it altogether. The United States remains somewhere in the middle. Perhaps it’s time for policy makers in the U.S. to pick a side.