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China's nuclear power industry - pygmy to giant in global market, says Madhavan, Rawski, and Tia

Chapter 10: Capability Upgrading and Catch-Up in Civil Nuclear Power: The Case of China

By Ravi Madhavan, Thomas G. Rawski, and Qingfeng Tian

This chapter analyzes China’s improbable progression from pygmy to emerging giant in civilian nuclear power. The Qinshan (Zhejiang) nuclear facility, a domestically developed plant rated at 298 MW, was connected to the grid in 1991. Twenty-five years later, the People’s Republic not only operates a fleet of thirty-eight nuclear plants and hosts more than one-third of global nuclear construction projects, but also boasts an extensive nuclear supply chain, stands on the brink of commercializing its own Hualong 1 (Dragon 1) reactor design, and is riding a wave of momentum in the global nuclear market. This chapter describes this dramatic shift and considers its potential implications for China and for the global nuclear power industry. In the process, we highlight the role of industrial policy, regulation, and enterprise initiative as drivers of catch-up and innovation.

We expect industrial policy and regulation to exert major influence in an industry that faces significant safety risks and shares technology with the military. However, our analysis produces the surprising insight that the state-owned entities that constitute the Chinese nuclear power plant (NPP) sector also engage in robust competition and entrepreneurial action to shape those policies to their own ends. Thus, our case study presents industrial policy, regulation, and enterprise initiative as complementary forces driving catch-up and innovation.

In Policy, Regulation and Innovation in China’s Electricity and Telecom Industries. Loren Brandt and Thomas G. Rawski, eds. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

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