December 3, 2010

China's Nuclear Boom

From Bloomberg News:

According to Michael Kruse, consultant on nuclear systems for Arthur D. Little, the Chinese are ready to spend $511 billion to build up to 245 reactors.

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Westinghouse, for example, says it has handed over more than 75,000 technical documents to its Chinese customers as part of its agreement to license reactor technology.

“We look at this as a long-term opportunity and partnership,” says Jack Allen, Westinghouse Asia’s president. “But there are no guarantees.”

Just 13 nuclear plants operate in China today, and until recently the Chinese were building only one or two reactors a decade. Now they are building 25 facilities, accounting for close to half the reactors under construction worldwide.

China’s energy planners say they aim to have 40 reactors by 2020 and, by 2030, enough additional reactors to generate more power than all 104 reactors in the U.S., the leader in nuclear energy. Westinghouse, Areva, and other foreign companies will profit by licensing their reactor technology, consulting on safety and other issues, supplying components, and helping with construction.

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President Hu Jintao wants non-fossil fuels to produce 15 percent of China’s energy by 2020. Although the Chinese have spent plenty on wind turbines and solar panels, only a buildup of nuclear power can make that target reachable.

“Developing clean, low-carbon energy is an international priority,” says Zhao Chengkun, vice-president of the China Nuclear Energy Association. “Nuclear is recognized as the only energy source that can be used on a mass scale to achieve this.”

Foreign companies are already getting contracts. On Nov. 23, Cameco Corp., the miner, agreed to supply 29 million pounds of uranium to Guangdong Nuclear through 2025. Thomas Mundy, president and chief executive officer of Exelon Nuclear Partners, whose parent company runs 17 nuclear reactors in the U.S., says he hopes to reach an agreement by mid-2011 to help the Chinese manage their reactors.

Westinghouse designs are being used for four reactors now under construction. Areva has sold two latest-generation reactors now under construction, as well as nuclear fuel. Areva Chief Executive Officer Anne Lauvergeon told the French Senate on Nov. 24 that she expected another deal on two more.

According to Lauvergeon and Allen, China is building reactors faster and at a lower cost than the rest of the world. State ownership of the industry guarantees capital and relatively quick approvals of new plants. Low-cost labor and experience in major infrastructure projects, whether power plants or subway systems, also help.

As a result, building a Western-designed reactor in China costs about $4 billion, 40 percent less than one in Normandy, and can be completed in 46 months, versus 71 months in France, according to Areva.


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