November 14, 2011

This Weekend’s News: For China, Pursuit of Nuclear Power Requires Some Outside Help

China is just one of the many East and Southeast Asian states
that continues to pursue nuclear power in the wake of the March 2011 disaster
at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear generating station. But China, like most
other states with nuclear reactors or aspirations, has not been blithe about
the Fukushima crisis. According to The
Wall Street Journal
on Saturday, “China
was one of the world's fastest-growing nuclear markets before the March
disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power facility
.” That changed
in March when “China's
State Council, China's cabinet, ordered a suspension of approvals for new
nuclear plants and began a nationwide nuclear-safety review as public fear over
nuclear power widened after the Fukushima Daiichi incident

To help China improve its safety standards and develop other
expertise, The Wall Street Journal reported
that the U.S.-based Exelon Corps – which provides support services to the nuclear
industry – will partner with China’s state-owned China National Nuclear Corps
(CNNC), a move, the Journal says, that
suggests that “China's
secretive state-owned nuclear companies are determined to learn Western safety
practices and other expertise in the aftermath of Japan's nuclear incident in

China currently operates 14 reactors, mostly in densely
populated areas along its east coast, with many more planned. And though its
reactors are generally modern, industry experts caution that “it
lacks enough experienced nuclear regulators and plant operators to keep up with
the industry's torrid growth
,” according to The Wall Street Journal.  “Officials
have estimated nuclear-production capacity output could grow to more than 80
gigawatts by 2020 from about 11 gigawatts today
,” a clear demand signal for
more experienced operators with familiarity with modern safety standards.

The current deal is limited in scope but has the potential
to become more significant. Moreover, the deal is a welcome change in policy for
China’s nuclear operators, including CNNC, an organization whose buy-in is
likely to prove instrumental in furthering a cooperative partnership between U.S.
and Chinese nuclear experts. “The
cooperation with Exelon appears to be a significant pivot for CNNC, which in
recent years unsuccessfully lobbied Beijing against embracing foreign nuclear
technology standards
,” according to The
Wall Street Journal
.  “The
company is also responsible for developing military nuclear capabilities for
the People's Liberation Army

Beyond China, one has to wonder if there are other
opportunities for U.S. experts to partner with other countries in the region
that seek to develop nuclear energy capabilities, such as Indonesia, Thailand
and Vietnam, to name a few. 
Exposure to Western safety standards and expertise would strengthen
these fledgling efforts in support of preventing the kinds of accidents that
nuclear watchdog groups have cautioned about. Moreover, it could be a useful
avenue for furthering science and technology cooperation that can help the
United States develop more robust relationships with states in the region at a
time when the Obama administration, including President Obama, has made
pronouncements about Asia’s strategic importance. “There's
no region in the world that we consider more vital than the Asia-Pacific region
President Obama told an audience at the annual meeting of the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation on Saturday.

This Week’s Events

Today at 9 AM, head over to the National Press Club for National
Space Society To Announce Ground-Breaking Green Energy Solution

On Tuesday at 10:30 AM, Resources for the Future will host On
the Portents of Peak Oil (And Other Indicators of Resource Scarcity)
. At
noon, the Society for International Development will hold an event on Technology
Innovations and Food Security: A Conversation with Bob Nanes, IDE’s Country
Director, Ghana
. At 1 PM, World Watch will have a Policy
Briefing: REN21’s Global Status Report
. At 2 PM, head over to the U.S.
Institute for Peace for the Launch
of Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade
. Then at 4:30 PM,
Partnership for a Secure America will explore 21st Century Nuclear
Challenges: Policies, Priorities, and the Public Role

On Thursday at 9 AM, the Wilson Center will host an event on
Change, Water, and Conflict in the Niger River Basin
. At noon, the World
Resources Institute will explore Russia's
Energy Future
. At 12:30 PM, SAIS will examine Prudent Development: Realizing the
Potential of North America's Abundant Gas and Oil Resources

Finally on Friday at noon, head back to World Resources
Institute for Modeling Scientific
Uncertainty in the Economic Evaluation of Climate Policy
. Then at 12:30, go
over to SAIS for The Geopolitics of