China To Build 60 New Nuclear Power Plants In The Next Decade. Is The US Falling Behind?

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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China plans to spend $570 billion building more than 60 nuclear power plants over the next decade, which has energy experts worried the U.S. could be left behind on nuclear power.

China’s new nuclear plan, released Tuesday, calls for more than doubling its current nuclear fleet of 30 operational nuclear reactors, and goes far beyond the 21 reactors it already had under construction.

“What’s alarming about it is how much larger China’s ambitions are than those of the U.S.,” Rich Powell, managing director for strategy at the conservative ClearPath Foundation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Optimistically, we have 5 new reactors in the next decade, and they have 60,” Powell said. “This is very much in line with commitments China has made in the Paris Climate agreement. Obviously, they need nuclear power if they want to do that in a practical way.”

China intends to bring 58 gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity into operation by 2020, up from the current capacity of roughly 27 gigawatts, according to World Nuclear News. China plans to follow this by getting about 10 percent of its electricity from 150 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2030, according to the World Nuclear Association.

By 2050, China intends to have more than 350 gigawatts of nuclear power. A gigawatt of power provides enough energy for roughly 700,000 homes.

The U.S., on the other hand, only plans to build four new conventional nuclear reactors and one unconventional — just enough to compensate for shutting down aging nuclear reactors.

Globally, installed nuclear capacity is expected to grow 60 percent by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency, while American capacity will likely only grow by 16 percent over the same time period.

“China is doubling down on advanced nuclear too,” Powell said. “Terra Power, the advanced nuclear company backed by Bill Gates, chose to develop their technology in China so they didn’t have to deal with the bureaucracy of the U.S. NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission]. China is open for business on this. We’re not.”

China currently operates 30 nuclear reactors, from which it derives 2.5 percent of its electricity. The country plans to build another 24 reactors and will accelerate construction of a large commercial scale reprocessing plant to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Chinese officials plan to develop and build advanced molten-salt reactors, a concept America developed, but abandoned in the 1970s, according to the MIT Technology Review.

“Our NRC is demanding too much in fees and too much in time,” Powell told TheDCNF. “To licence a new reactor it is supposed to take 4 years, but the NRC makes companies do years of work in advanced before submitting that application to meet the deadline. NuScale Nuclear Power has been in the pre-application process for 5 years. Effectively, it takes up to a decade to license a new nuclear reactor design in America, and that’s before you can even think about actually building one. Its simply not a good business decision to invest in the American nuclear industry thanks to our bureaucracy.”

Every current U.S. nuclear plant spends an estimated $4.2 million every year, meeting government paperwork requirements and another $14 million on various government fees paid mostly to the NRC. The NRC requires so much paperwork from the nuclear power providers that the average plant requires 86 full-time employees just to go through it all.

A conventional reactor can be built in eight to 10 years, but new modular designs could be built in two or three years, according to Powell. It took an incredible 43 years to build to build America’s newest nuclear reactor due to scandals, red tape and environmental concerns. These huge delays caused a declining interest in the construction of new nuclear plants, resulting in 40 percent fewer licensing requests from the NRC.

The average age for American nuclear reactors is 35, nearly obsolete by modern design standards and near the end of 40-year operating licenses. Sixteen American nuclear reactors are more than 42 years old, according to government data compiled and mapped by TheDCNF.

America currently operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operated nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The average nuclear plant employs between 400 and 700 highly-skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

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