China has invested billions in developing reactor prototypes.
John A. Bewick is a contributing editor for Public Utilities Fortnightly, based in Boston. He holds advanced degrees in nuclear science and business management.
China is currently the world leader in investment in and development of new nuclear power facilities. Not only are 28 conventional nuclear reactors under construction, but China is also actively developing Generation IV nuclear concepts. By 2015, China will have 36 Gwe installed nuclear capacity, about 2% of its electricity power supply, with a projected 70 Gwe by 2020. The Chinese National Nuclear Corporation expects to invest $120 billion by 2020 in new reactors.
China's motivation is profound. Coal supplies over 70% of China's energy, which makes it the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and the target for those concerned about climate change. Coal's dominance leads to very poor air quality, but China has limited options for replacing its coal-fired capacity, as its natural gas resources are insufficient, while gas imports (from Turkmenistan and Russia) are expensive and potentially unreliable.