China planning 150 new nuclear reactors, dwarfing other countries

The United States is likely 10-15 years behind China in nuclear power technology, according to a new report. With Germany dismantling its nuclear reactors and the US and France standing still, China may soon have more nuclear reactors than all three combined.

China intends to build 150 new nuclear reactors between 2020 and 2035, with 27 currently under construction, according to a new report by Stephen Ezell, vice president for global innovation policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

China builds more than two and a half times more reactors than any other country. It also builds new reactors “far faster” than most other nations, with an average construction timeline of about seven years.

“Overall, analysts assess that China likely stands 10 to 15 years ahead of the United States in its ability to deploy fourth-generation nuclear reactors at scale,” the report said. “China is years ahead of the US in even deploying our country’s own technologies.”

China has already become the first country to commence operation of the world’s first fourth-generation nuclear power plant, the 200 megawatt gas-cooled Shidaowan-1. The country’s Nuclear Energy Administration asserts that 90% of the technology in the new plant was developed within China.

If China keeps this pace, building six to eight new nuclear power plants each year, it’s expected to surpass the US in nuclear power generation capacity by 2030.

China is working on becoming self-sufficient not just in power plant capacity but also across the entire nuclear fuel cycle, from the enrichment of uranium to the manufacturing of nuclear fuel.

The US has the most operational nuclear reactors (94) and remains the world’s leader in nuclear energy output, accounting for one-third of global generation. However, the current American nuclear base is ageing rapidly and is less efficient and safe than newer designs.

No new nuclear reactors are under construction in the US. The latest reactor to enter service is Vogtle Unit 4 at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia. It began commercial operation on April 29th, 2024, after years of delays and budget overruns. The total cost of the project, which consists of two reactors, is now estimated at more than $30 billion instead of the $14 billion originally expected.

Currently, China has 56 fully operational nuclear reactors. France also has 56 nuclear reactors.

nuclear reactors

China has also started to lead in scientific publications. From 2008 to 2023, China’s share of all nuclear patents increased from 1.3 percent to 13.4 percent.

“From framing the economics of the sector, to coordinating ecosystem actors, to streamlining regulatory and permitting procedures to supporting R&D investments in the sector, China’s state guidance has been critical in driving China’s nuclear sector,” the report reads.

“About 70 percent of the cost of Chinese reactors are covered by loans from state-backed banks at rates as low as 1.4 percent, far below rates nuclear power companies can receive in other nations.”

The researchers suggest that “if the US is to contribute to global clean energy and decarbonization objectives, an embrace of nuclear energy must be part of an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.”

A wave of new generative AI technologies is expected to push energy demands higher. Nine of the top ten US electric utilities previously said that data centers were a main source of customer growth, leading many to revise capital expenditure plans and demand forecasts, according to a Reuters analysis.