By Ashutosh Patki • published 2 May 2023 (Updated 3 May 2023)
As the world grapples with the persisting energy crisis, China-led Asia emerges as a hub for nuclear power development signifying the decline of the west. Despite the paucity of resources, countries like Japan and South Korea have ditched their anti-nuclear policies, whereas China followed by India is building more reactors.
Globally 53 reactors were considered as under construction as of July 1, 2022, according to The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2022 (WNISR2022). With 21 units, which account for 40 percent of total global construction, China tops the list of countries with the most reactors under construction. Out of 15 countries that are building nuclear plants, only four countries including China, India, Russia and South Korea are constructing more than one site.
“The embracing of nuclear energy comes after the prices of natural gas and coal, the two fossil fuels used to generate most of Asia’s power, shot to records this year as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended markets”, mentioned Business Standard in its ‘Rising prices of natural gas, coal spur revival of nuclear power in Asia’.
In terms of construction technology, Russia is the largest technology supplier in the international markets. Globally it is developing 20 units with three being developed domestically. “The remaining 17 units are being constructed in seven countries, including four each in China and India, and three in Turkey”, states the WNISR2022 report. Apart from Russia’s ‘Rosatom’, only French and South Korean companies are the leading contractors of nuclear power plants abroad.
If a comparison is drawn out between China and India, then the former’s nuclear power generation has increased by 11 percent and accounted for 5 percent of total electricity production in 2021. On the other hand, India’s nuclear generation has been declining since 2019 and represented 3.2 percent of total electricity production in 2021.
China built 20 new nuclear power plants which have a total capacity of 23.4 GW during its 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016 to 2020). This doubled their capacity to 47 GW.
The numbers of startup and closure of the nuclear reactors internationally highlight the reason why China-lead Asia is rising as a hub, whereas western nations are not keeping up the same pace.
From 2002 to 2021, 98 new reactors were started and 105 were closed. Out of the 98 reactors, 50 were started in China, which did not close any of them. “Six units were connected to the grid in 2021, of which three were in China, and one each in India, Pakistan (built by China), and the UAE”, according to WNISR2022.
In 2021, totally eight reactors were closed, which included three in Germany and one each in Pakistan, Russia, UK and US.
The data about the United States shows that the country’s nuclear energy generation peaked in 2019 but dropped by 3.9 percent (cumulated) by 2021. The commercial electricity generation share declined to 18.9 percent.
Forbes quotes Luo Qi of China’s Atomic Energy Research Initiative in its ‘China Will Lead The World In Nuclear Energy, Along With All Other Energy Sources, Sooner Than You Think’. According to the article, Luo Qi believes that by 2035, China’s nuclear plants in operation should reach around 180 GW, which will be more nuclear than the United States and France combined.