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August 19, 2010

China Leverages the Learning Curve Cost Savings for Energy and the US Attempts at Energy Research Leapfrogging

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* For China and Russia: 2.5c is added to coal and 1.3c to gas as carbon emission cost to enable sensible comparison with other data in those fuel/technology categories, though within those countries coal and gas will in fact be cheaper than the Table above suggests.

The Unites States has various nuclear fission and nuclear fusion research projects like the National Ignition Facilities work towards laser fusion with the proposed Laser Inertial Fusion Engine (LIFE). There is a video below that describes the laser fusion work. The economic goal would be to get LIFE to about half of the current cost of nuclear power when the first commercial unit is delivered around 2025-2030. The cost is compared to the current nuclear reactor capital costs of $4000-10000 per Kilowatt for new build in the United States. There is a detailed 8 page projected cost analysis for LIFE

China is already at $1500-2000 per kilowatt capital cost and the latest OECD estimate was for $1748/KW for overnight costs for a new CPR1000 reactor. China has announced plans to get the cost of CPR1000 reactors down by one third to about $1225/KW by the time they have built 50 of them. China will be building reactors for export after they get ahead of their domestic demand needs. Nuclear overnight capital costs from OECD estimates for the South Korea APR-1400 is US$ 1556/kW. China will be making its own version of the AP1000 and could get down to the $1100/kW range when they have built 50 of those. China could go from 3 cents per KWh to 2 cents per KWh. China's reactors will be cheaper than what the US has planned and China will have small modular units that are easily built in massive factories and exported.

The above chart from the World Nuclear association only goes up to the 8th unit produced. China is planning to 50 and 100 or more units. The reactor build times are now at 5 years and are being reduced to 4 years and even 3 years. Even 1-2 year buils times could be possible for the pebble bed reactors. There is also research to extend nuclear plants to 80 or more years of operation by designing all parts to be replaceable. A vibrant nuclear power industry with hundreds of units per year, far longer plant operations, complete fuel processing or deep burn, rapid factory construction can achieve sub-$1000/KW capital costs and one cent per KWh by improving all factors of construction and operation with a long term large scale industrial plan.



China has discussed plans to build 60 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2020, 200 gigawatts by 2030 and 400 gigawatts by 2050. In 2050, China is estimated to need 1500 Gigawatts of electricity. 400 Gigawatts would be about 27% of total China electricity demand. China is raising its 2020 nuclear energy build target to 80-85 gigawatts. It is likely the 2030 and 2050 nuclear build targets will be raised as well especially if the construction prices improve as expected.

China is planning to build better and better breeder and high temperature reactors and better and better reprocessing facilities to close the fuel cycle.

The United States needs to get back to building things, get good at building what is possible today and having parallel efforts to develop better technology which can be integrated into future models. Trying to lob 20 year hail Mary technology passes is too prone to failures in funding and failures in execution and failures in research.

Japan's Fifth Generation computer research program attempt to leapfrog the US computer industry is an example of such a failed attempt. Constantly building with an improving and vibrant industry is what is needed.

China is also not ignoring fusion or advanced nuclear fission and has active programs. The difference is that China plans to have things built within 5-10 years and then to iteratively make the next improved or more ambitious version.

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