Sunday, January 16, 2005

China Promotes Another Boom: Nuclear Power

On NYTimes January 15, 2005

Current plans - conservative ones, in the estimation of some people involved in China's nuclear energy program - call for new reactors to be commissioned at a rate of nearly two a year between now and 2020, a pace that experts say is comparable to the peak of the United States' nuclear energy push in the 1970's.

By 2010, planners predict a quadrupling of nuclear output to 16 billion kilowatt-hours and a doubling of that figure by 2015. And with commercial nuclear energy programs dead or stagnant in the United States and most of Europe, Western and other developers of nuclear plant technology are lining up to sell reactors and other equipment to the Chinese ....

Japan derives about 10 percent of its energy from nuclear sources and was once among the most favorably disposed toward nuclear energy. But a string of scandals involving comically shoddy practices, like mixing radioactive materials in a bucket, and near accidents have turned public opinion in many areas strongly antinuclear.

China's eight nuclear reactors in operation today supply less than 2 percent of current demand. By 2020, assuming the national plan is fulfilled, nuclear energy would still constitute under 4 percent of demand.

"With wind power, you can go bankrupt. With a dam burst, lives can and have been lost, but it's fairly localized. The cost of cleaning up after Chernobyl, though, is greater than all of the benefits of the entire Soviet nuclear power industry combined, and it could have been worse."

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