For Climate-Conscious China, Nuclear Power Fuels an Economic Boom
China built its first commercial reactor in 1985 and rapidly became a global nuclear power player in the late 90s. Last year, it got 1.85 percent of its electricity from nuclear, the lowest share of any country with nuclear power. But by May this year, China had increased its nuclear potential and made plans to more than double it. According to the World Nuclear Organization, thirty-nine percent of global new nuclear build now comes from China, and the country is rapidly becoming self-sufficient in reactor design, construction, and other aspects of the fuel cycle.
Nuclear power makes sense for China, given the country's heavy reliance on coal and its heavy air pollution, which is estimated to cost China 6 percent of GDP in an analysis by The World Bank. Yet, after the nuclear catastrophe in Japan, China's State Council suspended nuclear-power projects approval. Notes from the State Council meeting said: "We must fully grasp the importance and urgency of nuclear safety, and development of nuclear power must make safety the top priority."
Fifteen months later, the program is slowly getting back on track. In late May, the State Council passed a framework for preventing and reversing mishaps, and on June fifth a firm set up to build the Pengze plant in Jiangxi Province, one of the first inland nuclear power plants.
This news is vital for parties as diverse as the big nuclear construction firms such as Areva and Westinghouse, uranium suppliers in Africa, and prospective nuclear builders in countries such as the UK, Turkey and Saudi Arabia--where companies want to partner with China's big nuclear reactor firms.
"China's nuclear developments probably matter more to the rest of the world than they do to China," according to Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow at Chatham House in the UK, on the ChinaDialogue website. Such activity means China looks set to become the center of the global nuclear industry.
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