Nuclear energy is politically sensitive. For its proponents, nuclear energy is clean and highly efficient and indeed is the only alternative to fossil fuels in providing a base supply of electricity. For its opponents, nuclear energy is nothing but trouble, a symbol of war and weaponry par excellence, and one that creates environmental problems for mankind today and in the future. What is remarkable in this highly emotional debate is the general division between developed and developing countries. Asian and Gulf states are more active than many in other continents in expanding or developing their nuclear energy capacities. China is leading this expansion with 27 reactors under construction now.
Nuclear development in China highlights a series of objectives many developing countries try to balance – energy and economy, energy and development, energy and environment, energy and security, and the need for both clean energy and adequate and reliable energy supplies. It tells a counterintuitive story about Chinese politics – a single-party authoritarian political system with an extremely fragmented institutional structure in nuclear energy policy making, implementation and regulation and with highly competitive market forces in play. It provides a cautionary tale about the Chinese as well as global nuclear future. This paper discusses the challenges of nuclear energy development, using China as an example. It asks who drives it, what technology is selected and adopted, how human capital is developed, what the rules of the games are, and more importantly, which institutions are responsible for issuing licenses, regulating standards, and overseeing the compliance, and what forms of regulation do they use. At the core of these questions is if and how countries can ensure safe, secure and sustainable nuclear development.
Dr. Xu Yi-chong is a research professor of politics and public policy at Griffith University. Before joining Griffith University in January 2007, Xu was professor of political science at St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada. She is author of The Politics of Nuclear Energy in China (2010); Electricity Reform in China, India and Russia: The World Bank Template and the Politics of Power (2004); Powering China: Reforming the electric power industry in China (2002); co-author of Inside the World Bank: Exploding the Myth of the Monolithic Bank (with Patrick Weller 2009) and The Governance of World Trade: International Civil Servants and the GATT/WTO, (with Patrick Weller 2004); and editor of Nuclear Energy Development in Asia (2011) and The Political Economy of Sovereign Wealth Funds (2010). All these projects were supported by the research grants from either Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) or Australian Research Council.