A nuclear power renaissance is going on outside our borders, pioneered by companies that never were or are no longer American.
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The big news, however, is in China, which has bought technology from Russia, France and Japan and is planning to open 21 reactors by 2014. China’s nuclear push will mitigate its embrace of coal, which is already causing so much alarm among those concerned about global warming. Likewise, the recent signing of a technology agreement with the United States has stimulated India’s nuclear effort. The country is now planning 18 to 20 new reactors over the next 15 years, some fueled by thorium, of which India has the world’s largest supplies.
If the nuclear revival does take hold in the U.S., we are much more likely to be a buyer than a seller of the technology. Japan Steel Works is now the world’s only supplier of the steel pressure vessels at the reactor core. The company is backed up four years and just spent $500 million to expand its annual output from four to six. Westinghouse, which once competed head-to-head with General Electric, is now a Japanese company, bought by Toshiba in 2006. Babcock & Wilcox, the other major American manufacturer, has dropped out of the field entirely.
So already a good number of the 28 new American reactors now on the drawing boards will be built by foreign companies. Such is the price we pay for surrendering to our fears on nuclear technology. As Besnainou said in his keynote remarks: “If the United States had gone forward with nuclear power twenty years ago, you would be in much better shape economically than you are today.”
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