Asia Going Nuclear Amid Rising Oil Prices

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 8, 2006; 11:09 PM

ULSAN, South Korea -- Led by fast-growing China and India, Asia is going nuclear in a big way to feed its ravenous appetite for energy.

The strains of economic growth are already showing. Energy shortages have forced Chinese factories to scale back production, and farmers in India often have power for only half the day. Both countries say their future growth is at risk unless they diversify their energy mix.

So does South Korea, where Yoon Ho-taek scans a construction site the size of 10 football fields in the southeastern city of Ulsan, points to what looks like a partly built amphitheater, and declares: "The future of nuclear power is bright."

South Korea, the world's second biggest coal importer and third biggest oil importer, already depends on nuclear reactors for 40 percent of its power and is talking of increasing that to 60 percent by 2035.

Yoon's company, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, is building four reactors and plans four more by 2017. Two of them are 1,000-megawatt reactors going up in Ulsan, lighting as many as 2.4 million homes in South Korea's industrial heartland.

Along with homemade reactors, Asia's plans hold out the promise of a bonanza for American companies such as Westinghouse Electric Co. and General Electric Co. which already have a strong presence in the region. Westinghouse has helped build 14 nuclear plants in South Korea and provided technology for almost half of Japan's 55 nuclear units. GE, meanwhile, has helped build 36 reactors in Japan, India and Taiwan.

"We expect Asia to become a leader in the use of commercial nuclear power," Timothy Collier, president of Westinghouse Korea, told The Associated Press. Asia needs a reliable electricity source, he says, and "Nuclear offers the opportunity to do that free of the dependence on oil."

Eighteen reactors _ about 70 percent of the world's total under construction _ are going up in Asia, and another 77 are planned or proposed, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

Japan depends on nuclear plants for a third of its power and plans to double its nuclear capacity by 2050. Australia wants to build its first plant, and Indonesia has vowed to go nuclear, even though it's vulnerable to earthquakes, floods and landslides.

According to the World Nuclear Association, a group that promotes nuclear energy, China plans to increase its nuclear capacity from 6.6 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts by 2020 with the addition of 30 nuclear plants, mostly in heavily populated, industrialized coastal regions where demand and pollution levels are highest.

India intends to go from just under 3 gigawatts to 20 gigawatts by 2020 with the addition of 31 plants, mostly in the west where much of its heavy industry lies.

India's nuclear industry received a boost in March after it signed a civilian nuclear pact with the U.S. Under the deal awaiting Congressional approval, the United States will give India nuclear technology and fuel in return for India's permission for international inspections and safeguards at 14 reactors.

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