The U.S. is building five times fewer new nuclear reactors than China, according to new data published Sunday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
China is building 20 new nuclear reactors while South Korea alone has five more under construction. Meanwhile, only six new nuclear reactors are being built in Western Europe, while just four are under construction in the U.S. That’s barely enough to replace older reactors going out of service. More than half of the world’s nuclear reactors under construction are in Asia with the majority of those in China, according to Seeker.
“Nuclear power is thriving overseas but not here at home,” John Keeley, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Electricity demand is booming in the developing world, where hundreds of millions of households are getting their first refrigerators, televisions, home computers, and even simple electric lights.”
In addition to high electricity demand, Asian governments consider nuclear power to be a key part of national prestige. These governments are willing to heavily subsidize nuclear energy while working directly with companies to guide reactors through regulatory and financial processes. China and other developing countries are willing to give domestic nuclear power big advantages that make it far more financially viable than in the U.S.
“On one hand, the U.S. has the largest, best operating and safest fleet in the world with the finest technology and deepest supply chain,” David Blee, executive director of the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC), told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “On the other hand, the market is fiercely competitive with sovereign suppliers enjoying advantages in financing, strategic partnerships on mega projects, lower regulatory hurdles and an enhanced pace of building reactors in most cases.”
As a result of these advantages, China is set to triple the amount of nuclear power it generates and overtake the U.S. as the country with the most nuclear power by 2026, according to research published in February. China plans to spend $570 billion building more than 60 nuclear power plants over the next decade.
Innovative advanced nuclear reactors capable of competing with foreign governments could be built in the U.S. and be sold abroad, but every design is still on the drawing board.
“We have nuclear ingenuity too, and we can dominate emerging markets if we build products suited for those electric systems,” Keeley said. “That’s one goal of the NuScale small modular reactor, which should premiere in Idaho in the mid-2020s, and then be ready for export.”
The U.S. has a lot more red tape around building a new nuclear power plant than China or other Asian countries. Approving new nuclear reactors takes as little as two years in China, but gaining regulatory approval in America to build a new reactor can take up to 25 years. It took 43 years to build America’s newest nuclear reactor, which was racked by scandals, red tape and environmental concerns.
Additionally, U.S. energy markets are far more hostile to nuclear power than Asian markets. In America, nuclear plants must compete against cheap natural gas and heavily subsidized wind and solar energy. To keep existing reactors online, many plants are forced to seek state subsidies as a carbon-dioxide (CO2) free electricity source.
However, U.S. reactors still have some advantages over their competition.
“Notwithstanding, there is a demand worldwide for the technology, quality and safety that the USA supply chain can bring to the table,” Blee said. “We are convinced that over the medium term that U.S. suppliers will gain market share as American nuclear resurges, as creative approaches to financing surface and as the Trump administration and Congress reboot the whole of government approach to nuclear energy competitiveness including funding support and regulatory modernization to speed advanced reactors, improve economics and enhance innovation.”
Worldwide installed nuclear capacity is expected to grow 60 percent by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency. American capacity will likely only grow by 16 percent over the same time period.