Nuclear, Reactors

A Tale of Two Nuclear Countries

Issue 4 and Volume 8.

Sharryn Dotson   By Sharryn Dotson, Editor

China and Japan are relatively close to each other, yet are worlds apart when it comes to nuclear power. One country is slowly restarting shut down nuclear plants and squashing new builds, while the other is in the middle of quite a new nuclear boom.

In June, China General Nuclear (CGN) announced it started commercial operations at the Ningde 3 and Yangjiang 2 plants. Both use the 1,080-MW CPR-1000 reactor technology. In March, CGN connected the Hongyanhe 3 nuclear unit to the grid and the Fangjiashan 2 unit was connected to the grid in November 2014. This is in addition to the more than 30 other reactors under construction in China.

Conversely, out of the 48 reactors shut down in Japan, only two are in the process of restarting. Units 1 and 2 at the Sendai nuclear plant passed all safety checks and inspections and were granted permission to restart. Kyushu Electric Power Co. said the utility completed loading fuel in Unit 1 and plans to have it running by August 10. Unit 2 is slated to begin operations in October. About 25 other reactors in the country have either submitted applications or are in varying stages of safety reviews for restart. The country will never get back to the point where it had almost 50 reactors in operation, but the restarts are a good start to help utilities’ bottom lines and emissions levels that have increased since the plants shut down in 2011.

Not to be outdone, South Korea currently has four reactors under construction scheduled to come online between 2015 and 2018. Eight more are planned with construction scheduled between 2016 and 2023, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Asia is quickly growing. China is the most populous country with 1.357 billion people as of 2014. India is second, followed by Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Japan is sixth on the list with 127.3 million. According to the World Population Review, it is predicted that populations will grow in every Asian country with the exception of Japan and Kazakhstan through 2050. Some countries are expected to double or more than double their populations during the same time frame, including India, Pakistan and Vietnam.

So, what does this mean for the global industry at a time when building new nuclear projects is pretty hit or miss? It means that not only are some countries going to meet power demands with a mix of generation sources that will include nuclear, but they will also expand their supply chains, which means more international business opportunities. That means that, even if new builds slow here in the U.S., for example, companies can stay afloat by providing products and services around the world. Look at companies like Westinghouse, Rosatom and Areva (despite the troubled nuclear reactors division, Areva’s waste storage, decommissioning and outage management products are flying out the door). They are involved in projects all over the world, or sharing their expertise with emerging countries that would like to begin or grow a nuclear industry. This includes Asian countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia, which have all signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, the U.S. and other major players in the nuclear industry.

Like many countries, Asia must overcome negative attitudes toward nuclear if it wants to maintain a nuclear industry. The 2011 accident in Fukushima, coupled with a scandal involving forged documents for replacement parts in South Korea nuclear power plants and public opposition to restarting nuclear plants in Japan have all led to some not wanting to bother with building a nuclear plant. However, as more and more countries look to lower emissions while keeping the grid stable, nuclear must remain one of the choices. Of course, the governments will have to use what works best for their regions.

Asia is the poster child for how nuclear can be both embraced and shunned. It will be interesting to see where the nuclear industry in Asia stands in the next decade or so.