There’s an arms race afoot in energy production, and the U.S. is at risk of falling behind.
No longer are we able to rest on our laurels as the world’s number one producer of oil and gas. Thanks to global commitments to pursue a “clean energy transition”, countries like China have been able to establish a stronghold over the global supply of renewable energy resources that countries are increasingly relying upon.
And now it’s making a play for nuclear energy dominance as well.
China has the capacity to build more nuclear reactors than planned through 2025, the nation’s top industry body said in its annual report.
The national target is six to eight reactors a year, but that could be raised to 10, said the China Nuclear Energy Association. The agency is also advocating bringing more nuclear power inland, including as a backup to China’s massive buildout of wind and solar farms in the west, which can generate power only intermittently.
Ten reactors a year. Compare that to the U.S. where the first new reactor in decades has yet to come online, and has only recently been approved to begin loading fuel. Decades of irrational fears and ratcheting regulation have allowed the domestic nuclear industry to wither into lassitude.
Now to be fair, there are certainly reasons to be skeptical of projections coming out of a country like China. After all, the governing CCP has been known to fudge the numbers a time or two.
But even if the projections are halfway accurate, they capture a concerted effort by Chinese industry toward the rapid expansion of nuclear energy. Our chief geopolitical rival appears to be keenly aware of the need to sustain reliable, baseload power for the foreseeable future.
Like many nations, China is wrestling with how to avoid power shortages brought on by extreme weather and high prices. Nuclear approvals have accelerated this year after a surge in global energy prices, and the drought and power crunch in Sichuan province over the summer has only raised the level of concern over the nation’s energy security.
The country had 51 reactors in operation by 2021, making it the third largest operator after the U.S. and France. But the share of nuclear in its power mix is just 5% and a fraction of the amount of coal and gas-power deployed…
China’s nuclear ambitions are backed by a domestic manufacturing base that can supply 90% of the components used in its newest third-generation reactors, the home-grown Hualong-One and Guohe-One designs, as well as smaller modular reactors, said the association.
China already has an iron-clad grip on the supply chains for solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries currently flooding the U.S. market as utilities rush to build out renewable capacity, leaving the America in a precarious geostrategic position. We must not allow the same to occur with regard to construction prowess in the nuclear energy sector.
The federal government has begun to take steps on the supply-side to support the domestic nuclear industry by passing tax incentives to encourage the deployment of advanced reactors and develop domestic uranium supply chains. But states must also seize the initiative on the demand-side to ensure that those incentives are actually utilized to deploy tangible projects.
In Colorado, closing coal facilities present a golden opportunity for advanced reactors to fill a critical space in baseload power generation, workforce retention, and tax base replenishment in transitioning coal communities. That would be a good place to start.
Enterprising local governments have already begun seizing on this potential for coal communities on the western slope. State legislators and regulators should do their part to ensure that unnecessary impediments are removed in any way possible.
The U.S. cannot risk falling behind China in yet another sector of the clean energy transition, and Colorado officials should do their part to see to it that doesn’t happen.