BY JACK DINI – As the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan continues to be the cause of worldwide concern, China is not stopping its ambitious plans to expand its nuclear industry.

Compared with the nuclear facility in Fukushima, China’s reactors are thought to be much safer. Natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis will not destroy their cooling systems. However, the Chinese have taken a more cautious attitude after the Japan accident. (1) Their government announced on March 16, “We will temporarily suspend approval for nuclear power projects, including those that have already begun preliminary work. We must fully grasp the importance and urgency of nuclear safety.” That safety review is now nearing completion and all 13 existing reactors have been found safe. Inspections of the reactors under construction are expected to be finished by fall, and seemingly pose no challenge to the push forward with nuclear power plant construction reports David Biello. (2)

China can build a Western-designed nuclear reactor in less than 4 years. That’s quite a feat considering that it takes France almost 6 years to build one. And, it costs the Chinese 40 percent less, around $4 billion, compared to almost $7 billion for France. Fully-loaded capital costs for nuclear plants in the United States could be potentially 200 to 250 percent more expensive than the new Chinese nuclear plants. (3)

China is intent on making nuclear power a major contributor to their electricity generation mix in the near future. They currently have 13 nuclear plants in operation, but 25 more facilities are under construction, almost half the total nuclear reactors being constructed in the world. With these numbers, they should easily attain their 2020 goal of 40 reactors. Their 2030 goal is more ambitious; wanting to produce more power in 2030 than the United States produces with its 104 nuclear units. The Chinese have $511 billion in-hand dedicated to the construction of nuclear reactors. (3)

Germany’s Different Action

By contrast, Germany will completely abandon nuclear energy and technology by 2022.

Last autumn, when the German government said it would extend the life of some of its old nuclear reactors, it fell back on fear of climate change to justifying maintaining this ‘clean’ form of energy. This argument resonated with many people whose concern over planetary destruction at the hands of climate change outweighed their opposition to nuclear energy. After the accident in Japan, fear appeals based on the alleged threat from nuclear reactors successfully—at least for now—trumped the climate alarmists’ predictions of planetary apocalypse. The German shift shows that even in the midst of a titanic clash of competing calamities, scaremongering can be surprisingly pragmatic, says Frank Furedi. (4)

The country could face power shortages this winter unless there is sufficient power-generating capacity in reserve. The news will come as an embarrassment to the German government, as well as cast fresh doubts over the country’s ability to replace 23 percent of energy production accounted for by atomic power with renewable energy and greater efficiency. Critics of the move have also argued that going nuclear-free will just increase German dependency on fossil fuels, enlarge its carbon footprint and derail national targets to cut carbon emissions. This criticism gained extra credence after reports disclosed that the government has earmarked $220 million to subsidize the construction of new coal and gas-fired power stations in 2013 and 2014. (5)

Higher energy costs could force some leading industrial companies to follow the lead of energy –intensive sectors and leave Germany. One example: Pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer recently issued a warning that it may leave Germany because of rising electricity prices linked to Germany’s decision to end its nuclear energy program. Bayer employs 35,000 people in Germany and its CEO, Marijn Dekkers, said that Germany has the highest energy prices in Europe and was becoming less attractive to energy-intensive sectors such as the chemical industry. Dekker added that the company was already making significant investment in Chinese manufacturing operations, with expansion also taking place in Brazil and India reports Richard Connor. (6)

China’s leaders are bewildered by Germany’s hysterical move. Seeing a golden opportunity,  China aims to capitalize on Germany’s hasty, panicked decision and now hopes to lure German engineers and nuclear scientists to China in order to accelerate its own use of nuclear energy.  “It is false that a country with so few resources of its own would abandon nuclear power,” said Deputy General  Secretary  of the Chinese Atomic Agency CNEA, Xu Yuming. His criticism included an offer to the German nuclear scientists: “We invite the German Specialists to research for us in China and to work. The German plants are among the best in the world, the engineers and scientists have a great reputation.” (7)

 

References

  1. Hepeng Jia, “Full steam ahead for China’s nuclear development,  Chemistry World, April 13, 2011
  2. Davide Biello, “China’s nuclear power plans unfazed by Fukushima disaster,” Environment 360, August 8, 2011
  3. Institute for Energy Research, “China’s nuclear program: Fast and relatively inexpensive,” Canada Free Press, January 6, 2011
  4. Frank Furedi,  Nuclear vs climate change: the clash of the alarmists,” Spiked, June 2, 2011
  5. Matthew Day, “Germany can’t turn its back on nuclear energy,” Vancouver Sun, July 15, 2011
  6. Richard Connor, “Bayer threatens to leave Germany over high electricity costs,” Deutsche Welle, June 8, 2011
  7. P. Gosselin, “China to German nuclear engineers and scientists: Research and work for us,” notrickszone.com, May 30, 2011

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