China, US di­verge on ap­proaches to nu­clear en­ergy

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York paulwelitzkin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China and the US are tak­ing dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to nu­clear en­ergy, as both na­tions map out a strat­egy for their re­cent agree­ment to curb green­house-gas emis­sions.

The US is still ba­si­cally keep­ing nu­clear power at arm’s length, while China is em­brac­ing the tech­nol­ogy. On Mon­day, China’s largest nu­clear power pro­ducer, CGN Power Co Ltd, said it would have an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing in Hong Kong in De­cem­ber val­ued at up to HK$24.52 bil­lion (US$3.16 bil­lion) to raise funds to ex­pand gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity.

China is putting up a num­ber of new projects that will sharply in­crease the coun­try’s nu­clear gen­er­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to a Moody’s re­port this week in the In­ter­na­tional Business Times (IBT).

“De­spite gov­ern­ment support for nu­clear gen­er­a­tion in most ma­jor economies, low prices for nat­u­ral gas have put nu­clear power in a less com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion,” Pa­trick Mis­pagel, a Moody’s as­so­ciate man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, was quoted in the IBT. “As a re­sult, nu­clear gen­er­a­tion is grow­ing only in a few ma­jor mar­kets, most no­tably China and South Korea.”

“China is in fact plan­ning to build more nu­clear power plants,” James Hansen of the Earth In­sti­tute at Columbia Univer­sity in New York told China Daily. “The cru­cial re­quire­ment is to de­car­bonize elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, and that can­not be done soon with­out ma­jor help from mod­ern, safe nu­clear power. There should be co­op­er­a­tion in a mas­sive pro­gram to move rapidly in that di­rec­tion.”

“China an­nounced its in­ten­tion to get 20 per­cent of its pri­mary en­ergy con­sump­tion from non-fos­sil sources, and nu­clear is go­ing to play a sig­nif­i­cant part in achiev­ing China’s goals,” Doug Vine, se­nior en­ergy fel­low at the Cen­ter for Cli­mate and En­ergy So­lu­tions, said in an email. “China cur­rently gets less than 2 per­cent of its elec­tric power from nu­clear. This is ex­pected to rise to around 10 per­cent by 2030. That’s more im­pres­sive than it might seem be­cause China’s elec­tric­ity sys­tem will be con­sid­er­ably larger by then.”

With all the talk about re­duc­ing car­bon diox­ide emis­sions and dam­age from cli­mate change, why isn’t the US pur­su­ing more nu­clear power plants?

“The big­gest prob­lem in the US is an ex­ces­sive, ir­ra­tional fear of even low-level ra­di­a­tion,” Hansen said. “The re­sult­ing an­ti­nu­clear quasi-re­li­gion has in­ten­tion­ally worked to make nu­clear power as ex­pen­sive as pos­si­ble and to leave the nu­clear waste prob­lem un­solved.”

Hansen’s tes­ti­mony be­fore con­gres­sional com­mit­tees in the late 1980s helped to raise aware­ness of cli­mate is­sues and global warm­ing.

“Nu­clear waste could be han­dled via ad­vanced nu­clear tech­nol­ogy that ‘burns’ nu­clear wastes while gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity, but anti-nu­clear peo­ple have done their best to stymie de­vel­op­ment and de­ploy­ment of the tech­nol­ogy,” Hansen said. “This is one of the ar­eas in which se­ri­ous co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and other na­tions, es­pe­cially the United States, could work for the ben­e­fit of all.”

Vine noted that there is some move­ment in the US to nu­clear power with five re­ac­tors un­der con­struc­tion in Ten­nessee, Ge­or­gia and South Carolina. “There is in­ter­est from other US util­i­ties, and many say they like the di­ver­sity nu­clear pro­vides to their en­ergy mix. But for now, they are sit­ting on the side­lines, wait­ing to see how th­ese projects de­velop.

“The pro­posed Clean Power Plan from the EPA may pro­vide ad­di­tional in­cen­tives for util­i­ties to de­velop new nu­clear, but we’ll have to see how the fi­nal rule looks,” Vine con­tin­ued. “Right now, nat­u­ral gas is the cheap­est op­tion. A nat­u­ral gas power plant can get per­mits and be built rel­a­tively quickly. And if nat­u­ral gas is re­plac­ing coal-fired gen­er­a­tion, it re­duces US emis­sions, since nat­u­ral gas emits around half the CO2 per unit of en­ergy as coal.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping re­leased tar­gets for cut­ting green­house-gas emis­sions on Nov 12 dur­ing the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) meet­ing in Beijing. Un­der the pro­pos­als, Chi­nese emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide would peak by around 2030, while the US would cut emis­sions by more than a quar­ter from 2005 level by 2025.

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