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U.S. Trailing China’s Next-Generation Nuclear Power by 10 to 15 Years

The United States is likely 10 to 15 years behind China in deploying fourth-generation nuclear reactors at scale, as Chinese authorities are strongly backing the domestic industry with policies and financing, a new report by Washington-based research institute Information Technology & Innovation Foundation showed on Monday.

China supports its domestic nuclear power development with extensive financing at low rates from state-backed banks, backs the supply chain, and has an energy policy approach for a state commitment to build next-generation nuclear reactors, according to the study.

“Many fourth-generation nuclear technologies have been known for years, but China’s state-backed approach excels at fielding them,” the authors of the report wrote.

Moreover, “China’s rapid deployment of ever-more modern nuclear power plants over time produces significant scale economies and learning-by-doing effects, and this suggests that Chinese enterprises will gain an advantage at incremental innovation in this sector going forward,” according to the study.

China currently has 27 new nuclear reactors under construction and plans to build a total of 150 new nuclear reactors between 2020 and 2035. The average construction timeline for each reactor is about seven years, far faster than for most other nations, the ITIF report noted.

At the end of last year, China took a step ahead of competitors in civil nuclear energy technology as it started up the world's first fourth-generation nuclear reactor in December.
The U.S., while also recognizing nuclear power as a zero-emission source of electricity, hasn’t launched many reactors in the past decade. It would also need “a coherent national strategy and a “whole-of-government” approach” to regain leadership in the nuclear reactor industry, ITIF said.

As of April 2024, China had 55 operating nuclear reactors with a total net capacity of 53.2 GW, while another 23 reactors are currently under construction, the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) said in an analysis last month.

The United States still has the largest nuclear fleet in the world, with 94 reactors, but it took nearly 40 years to add the same nuclear power capacity as China added in 10 years, the EIA noted.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for