East Asia – a nuclear hotspot?

By Nicholas Newman

By 2050, at least half the world’s new nuclear power plants are likely to be built  in East Asia. Most of these new plants will be built in China, Taiwan and South Korea. However, there are tentative proposals for plants to be also constructed in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. However, one thing is for certain, Australia will be supplying uranium to these countries. It is funny that Australia is happy to mine and sell uranium for export but not use it itself. Nevertheless, unlike many of its North Asian neighbours, it has a vast treasure house of energy resources. Therefore, the energy security concerns its customers have do not apply to Australia.

As for Japan, its future depends on which black swan, acts of god and banana skin appears arises in the next year, as it determines its energy future. Currently, it is not surprising that there is a lot of public anger about events at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The public revelations that led up to what occurred at Fukushima Daiichi, illustrate the dysfunctional and incestuous nature of relations between the government, regulators and the embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. As such this is a classic example of what is wrong with Japan Inc., today!

One thing is for certain, Japan Inc., will have to make many painful institutional reforms if it is to win public support for a bright secure nuclear or non-nuclear future for Japan’s power sector.

Elsewhere in the region, the events at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have caused countries to pause and reflect about their nuclear power programs. As a result, new design and regulatory standards has been put in place. However, it has stopped China, Taiwan and South Korea from continuing with its plans to expand its nuclear sector. Already, South Korean has announced plans to increase the number of nuclear power plants it operates from 21 today to 40 units by 2030. This will mean nuclear contribution to Korea’s electricity market will increase from 31% to 56% by 2020. Because of its lengthy experience of operating foreign technology, mainly Westinghouse for some time, Korea itself has now developed its own commercial design the OPR-1000. Korea plans to export at least 80 units by 2080, supplying perhaps 20% of the world market, bring new competition to suppliers in the US, France and Russia. Already, Korea has won an order to build four large reactors in UAE.  In addition, it is seeking orders in Jordan, Turkey, Rumania, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Ukraine.

China has similar on-going plans to expand its nuclear power capacity from 10 GW today to 70 GW by 2020. It is currently building six new nuclear plants each year which could mean that by 2050 nuclear power will supply 400 GW of China’s needs. Again, like South Korea, China has evolved its own independent designs the CAP1000 AND CAP1400 based mainly on earlier imported Westinghouse designs. However, Western designs such as from the US and Europe are being built, including two 1650 MW European Pressurised Reactors on the coast near Shanghai at Sanmen.

Taiwan currently operates 5 nuclear power plants using the latest in Westinghouse and General Electric technology, at present two new plants are being constructed, with the first one due for completion in 2013. At present nuclear capacity provides 11% of total national generating capacity, which will increase once the new plants are in operation.

However, one thing is certain the future is bright for nuclear power in the East Asian region. Because of the entrants of new designs from this region, being developed should help make investment in nuclear power a more attractive commercial proposition than before.

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