Asian Nations Continue to Pursue Nuclear Power

China's Institute of Atomic Energy announced yesterday that its indigenously-developed China Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) has passed its final reactor checks, and is ready for full operation. The small demonstration reactor, which has a generating capacity of 20MW, achieved nuclear fission criticality in July 2010, and was connected to the electric grid a year later. It laid the basis for the design of a larger 600MW commercial-sized reactor, and there is a plan to develop an indigenous 1000MW reactor, to begin construction in 2017. In China's long-range plan, fast reactors will, by mid-century, replace current light water fission reactors as the nuclear technology of choice.

One advantage of fast reactors over today's conventional fission reactors is that they can make use of, or recycle, spent fuel, and decrease the nuclear "waste,'' that is produced by conventional plants. This closes the nuclear fuel cycle, making the process more efficient. In addition, the fast neutrons can be used to extend the natural resources of fissile fuel also by increasing the utilization of uranium, to 60% from the 1% typical today. If the neutrons are used to transmute elements in "waste'' to create fuel, these are breeder reactors. Only France, Japan, and Russia recycle spent nuclear fuel. The U.S. ended its breeder reactor program in the mid-1980s, and has yet to start a serious reprocessing effort.

China has a taken two parallel paths to get to these fourth-generation nuclear technologies. In addition to its indigenous fast reactor program, in 2009 it signed an agreement with Russia to opt for Russian's BN-800 technology, which is currently being built at Beloyarsk in Siberia. China has planned to start construction on two BN-800 reactors in 2013, although {nuclear news} reports that negotiations on price have delayed the project.

Southeast Asia is also moving on nuclear energy. The Thai energy Minister, Arak Chonlatanon, told a Bangkok seminar on Thai energy needs that Thailand will conduct a study on the construction of a nuclear power. His ministry was preparing the country's new power production capacity development plan (PDP 2012) to ensure energy sufficiency. Thailand has utilized about 70 per cent of its natural gas and the resource is expected to be depleted within the next 10 years, he explained. "Nuclear energy carries the lowest cost in generating electricity. But resistance to it among the public persists, as people are not confident about nuclear safety after the [emergency] at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant" in March 2011, Arak said.

Also, in a meeting of Asean energy ministers in Cambodia, the Cambodian government indicated that it was going to conduct a study into the possibility of constructing a nuclear power plant on Kong Island as a way to stimulate the country's economy. Vietnam has firm plans to build six reactors utilizing in turn Russian, Japanese and South Korean technology.

Contrast these developments to President Obama, obviously no Promethean, who has never defended nuclear power, and was also once (in)famously caught saying "We wouldn't need to invent some fancy fusion energy or anything.”

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