China is building four new nuclear plants, and has nearly completed construction on two of them, in the Zhejiang and Shandong provinces over the past five years, while similar plants in the United States have only just begun construction. Westinghouse, an American nuclear power company, is in charge of construction on both sets of plants.
"By January 2013, all major components were installed on site," Westinghouse Vice President of Strategy Michael Latsko said at the 2013 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Conference. "We will turn over the main control of the plants later this year and we’re training operators … so China will be self-sufficient."
China approved the construction of the new plants in 2007, laid the foundation for them in 2009, and installed nearly all the major components by early 2013. The plants are expected to begin generating electricity by late 2014 and early 2015.
Construction sped through despite the fact that the leader of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and senior Communist Party member, Kang Rixin, was arrested in 2009 for accepting bribes from foreign nuclear power companies and embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars
Progress has been slower in the United States. Westinghouse signed contracts with two American energy companies to build plants in 2008. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not grant the companies building licenses until 2012, according to Latsko. Construction began in early 2013, but has been plagued by delays.
"It takes years for this licensing process," Latsko told the Washington Free Beacon. "I don’t think [China] is quicker, it’s just different. For example, we’ve been waiting for years for China to approve our next set of plans" to build two additional plants in the country.
The construction disparity occurred despite China’s relative inexperience in nuclear power management.
Westinghouse is delivering the plants to two separate Chinese companies, one of which has never managed nuclear plants before. China’s construction was also slowed by the fact that many of the components in the early construction had to be brought in from overseas since the technology did not exist in China.
"One of the bigger challenges with China has been to transfer the technology, get the technology assimilated and get the supply chain up to speed to manufacture and deliver the components," Latsko said. "For the first [plants] a lot of the components, cables, and wiring were coming from outside of China."
The Communist regime will not have the same obstacles in future nuclear construction. Westinghouse has signed multiple technology transfers with the state-owned CNNC. China has begun to move beyond Westinghouse’s design to build "even bigger plants," according to EIA moderator Stan Kaplan.
"We gave the design to manufacture, construct and manage nuclear power plants, so they will be able to be self sufficient in China," Latsko said. "[The larger plants] make sense for the Chinese market."
Latsko said the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown that occurred in Japan following a powerful earthquake "caused a pause" in construction in the United States and China, but insisted that the company’s safety measures are still sound.
Nuclear energy is one of the cheapest and environmentally sound energy sources in the world, but the United States has lagged in production because of a generation-long absence of new construction, according to Thomas Fanning, president of Southern Company, which is building nuclear plants in the southeastern United States.
"Nuclear is responsible for 20 percent of American electricity … and we are leading the renaissance of nuclear energy [in America]," he told the EIA conference on Monday.
That renaissance may be exaggerated. U.S. energy policy has done little to alleviate the gap in production, as China ramps up its nuclear capabilities.
EIA analyst Jim Diefenderfer told the committee that renewable energy would surpass nuclear productivity by 2040, thanks in part to enhanced government regulation and subsidies for green energy sources.