Home » U.S. Lags Behind China in Advanced Nuclear Technology by 15 Years, New Report Reveals

U.S. Lags Behind China in Advanced Nuclear Technology by 15 Years, New Report Reveals

by Richard A Reagan

A recent report by the Washington-based nonpartisan research institute, Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, has revealed a significant gap between the United States and China in the development of advanced nuclear power technologies.

According to the findings, the U.S. is trailing by as much as 15 years behind China, whose aggressive state-supported strategy and rapid construction timelines have given it a considerable lead in this critical sector.

China currently has 27 nuclear reactors under construction, each taking an average of just seven years to build—a timeline significantly shorter than those observed in other countries. 

This swift deployment not only boosts China’s capacity but also fosters substantial economies of scale and cumulative learning benefits. “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,” the report elaborates.

In contrast, the U.S., despite housing the world’s largest fleet of nuclear reactors and recognizing nuclear power as a crucial component in combating climate change under President Joe Biden’s administration, faces several challenges.

The completion of two large nuclear plants in Georgia in 2023 and 2024, which went billions of dollars over budget and were delayed by years, marks the end of current reactor constructions. Additionally, plans for a high-tech nuclear facility intended for a U.S. laboratory were scrapped last year.

The Chinese advantage is further compounded by their financial capabilities, with state-owned banks offering loans at rates as low as 1.4%, far below those available in the West.

This financial backing, coupled with sustained governmental support and strategic localization, has positioned China to dominate not only the nuclear power industry but also other sectors like renewable energy and electric vehicles (EVs).

China’s pioneering efforts have led to the launch of the world’s first so-called fourth-generation high-temperature gas-cooled reactor at Shidao Bay last December. Boasting over 2,200 sets of world-first equipment and a staggering 93.4% localization rate of domestically produced materials, the project stands as a testament to China’s ambitions and capabilities in high-tech nuclear development.

However, challenges remain as the China Nuclear Energy Association has issued warnings about a severe glut in nuclear component production and excessive competition that is driving down prices and profitability.

The report’s author, Stephen Ezell, stresses that if the U.S. wishes to remain competitive in the nuclear arena, it must formulate a robust national strategy focused on increasing investments in research and development, fast-tracking promising technologies, and cultivating a skilled workforce. “While America is behind, it can certainly catch up technologically,” Ezell asserts.

The U.S. finds itself at a crucial juncture. The ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza further complicate the situation, as the U.S. allocates significant resources towards aid, potentially diverting attention and funding from domestic advancements in nuclear technology.

This scenario echoes warnings from former President Trump, who frequently highlighted the strategic threat posed by China’s rapid advancements.

Without significant policy changes and investments, the gap noted in the report may widen, leaving the U.S. further behind in the race for nuclear innovation, at a time when global stability and energy independence are more critical than ever.

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