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Nuclear power plants: China and Russia dominate the world’s atom trade


It’s a long distance race. More discreet, of course, than the one on the gas front and oil since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but at work, and relentlessly led by Beijing and Moscow. In terms of civilian nuclear power, the two countries have been tracing their path for a long time, leaving the other major nations far behind them. At 1er January, of the 59 reactors under construction in the world, 22 were in China, and 43 are of Russian or Chinese technology, according to data from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR), an international nuclear status report, produced by atom experts and presented in Paris on 1er FEBRUARY.

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This trend is a long-term one. Between 2003 and 2022, China had already built half of the reactors (49 out of 99) in the world, while of the 105 that closed over the same period, none was on its soil. “Outside of China, over the past two decades, not much has happened in terms of new reactor commissioning, summarizes Mycle Schneider, director of the WNISR project. Overall, we even observe a decline. »

In fact, only the Middle Kingdom has been able to bring out of the ground between three and seven reactors per year, between 2010 and 2023. A cadence reminiscent of that of the France of the “plan Messmer”, between the 1970s and 1990s. And Beijing still wants to commission five reactors, currently under construction, by 2025. “China does mass construction, it has a real industrial program”, notice Valérie Faudon, general delegate of the French Nuclear Energy Company, stating that, beyond the four Russian reactors on its soil, the country’s power plants under construction are now all made in China.

“Tech Shopping”

“Beijing has done its technology shopping, buying two EPRs [réacteur pressurisé européen]reactors [de puissance à caloporteur et modérateur eau] Russian VVERs or American AP1000s [à eau pressurisée], which he then sinicized”, explains Mr. Schneider. These technology transfers have enabled it to have its own construction capacity: “After Fukushima, China has thus moved on to the third Chinese generation with its Hualong One reactor”, adds the expert. A decisive milestone, which today gives it international legitimacy.

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Admittedly, in this field, Russia remains the undisputed champion of exports. A total of 25 Russian reactors are under construction around the world: in China, but also in India, Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh, Iran and Belarus. In this capital-intensive sector, the public conglomerate Rosatom imposes itself by building at its own expense, thanks to advantageous loans that customers can only repay once the first megawatts have been produced.

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