Comment & People

China Could Become Dominant Nuclear Producer Within 20 Years, Says IEA Head

By David Dalton
22 February 2018

22 Feb (NucNet): China is set to more than triple its nuclear energy capacity over the next 20 years, overtaking the US to become the world’s largest nuclear power producer, according to the International Energy Agency.

Speaking at the International Petroleum Week conference in London on 21 February 2018, IEA executive director Fatih Birol expressed concerns that the US and Europe are not investing enough in nuclear power, while China is charging ahead.

“China is coming back strong. Today there are about 60 nuclear power plants under construction and more than one third of them are in China. China is growing and as a result of that we’ll soon see China overtaking the United States as the number 1 nuclear power in the world,” he said.

Mr Birol noted that the US has been the global leader in nuclear power since the 1960s, but said that two trends are threatening to knock the country out of the top spot: very few additions to nuclear capacity and no lifetime extensions for the existing power plants. The same goes for Europe, he said, where major nuclear player France – with 58 commercial nuclear units in operation and one under construction – has seen output decline sharply in recent years.

“If it continues like that, US nuclear capacity will go from 20% of overall power supply to 7%,” Mr Birol said.

Mr Birol said he expects China to overtake the US as the biggest nuclear nation by 2030.

The US has 99 nuclear plants in commercial operation compared to China’s 39, but it has only two under construction compared to 18 in China.

The IEA said in a recent report that China’s installed nuclear capacity could increase from 34 GW in 2016 to 111 GW in 2030 and 145 GW in 2040 as the country continues to shape global trends, with its “energy revolution” driving lower costs for a wide range of clean energy technologies.

The agency expects nuclear power capacity in China to make up 4% of the country’s total power supply in 2040, up from 2% in 2016.

The report said China’s strong emphasis on cleaner energy technologies, in large part to address poor air quality, is moving it into a position as a world leader in nuclear, wind, solar, and electric vehicles and the source of more than a quarter of projected growth in natural gas consumption.

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