China goes nuclear

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by Catherine Dunn,

from Fortune Magazine,

The People’s republic is placing a giant bet on nuclear energy. Will the US follow suit?

The containment vessel for the AP1000 nuclear reactor rises like a colossal lighthouse on the coast of the East China Sea. Jutting 230 feet into the air, the steel and concrete tower under construction will house two steam turbine generators, a 312-ton water and coolant tank, and a fission reactor. Come 2015, this atomic furnace will turn out 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes — and there’s more on the way. Another reactor is being readied at the same site in Sanmen, with two more under construction elsewhere and another eight planned, as China drives to nearly quadruple its nuclear energy capacity by 2020.

Four more Westinghouse reactors, the most advanced design certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are under construction in the U.S. — two at the Vogtle plant in Burke County, Ga., and another pair at the V.C. Summer station in South Carolina — the first of which are expected to begin operations in 2017. And three more will be built in the U.K.

Yet no country comes close to matching China’s appetite for atom-splitting power. The People’s Republic is currently building 29 reactors (designed by Westinghouse and others), according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. That’s four out of every 10 new plants in the world. Russia, the world’s next most active nuclear-plant builder, has 10 reactors under way; India has six.

China’s mad rush of reactor-building is a remarkable bright spot for an industry that has largely been in hunker-down mode since the 2011 accident at Fukushima.

Meanwhile China is roaring ahead. The country is eager to develop and export its own nuclear-energy technology. Within two decades, says Benjamin, China may top the U.S. to become the largest nuclear market in the world.

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