Monday, December 27, 2010

If Nuclear Power Works for the Chinese Navy . . . . .

Writing in the Japan Times, Michael Richardson reports that China is anxious about securing additional sources of imported oil and natural gas. According to Richardson China, once a net exporter of oil during the early 1990s, now imports just over one half the oil it uses, having recently surpassed Japan to become the world's second largest importer of oil. At the same time, China is encouraging "electricity generators, heavy industry and home-heating and cooking" to switch from reliance on coal to reliance on natural gas instead. (According to a different source, China is currently the world's largest user of coal.) In short, in 2030, China will import 80 percent of its oil consumption; natural gas, which currently accounts for 3 percent of China's energy production, will account for 10 percent of that production.

According to Richardson, China may take aggressive steps (what he calls "strong arm tactics") backed by a strengthened military, to assure itself of adequate supplies of oil and natural gas --- both by keeping sea lanes open and locating and exploiting supplies of oil and gas in waters also claimed by other nations. (At the same time, as Richardson notes, China is also moving to exploit offshore sources of oil and gas in undisputed Chinese waters.) Richardson also notes that China could choose a more cooperative approach to meeting its vast and rapidly increasing needs for oil and natural gas.

There is, of course, another way for China to deal with it growing dependence on imported oil and gas. That is, the country could follow the lead of the United States and other nations that have moved more aggressively to encourage carbon free energy production. As previously reported on this Blog, China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse cases, having passed the United States several years ago, largely due to its coal-intensive energy strategy. Indeed, according to one source, the combined emissions of three Chinese electricity companies exceed those of Britain, and another source predicts that China will nearly triple its coal-fired electricity generating capacity and use 135 percent more coal than the United States by 2030. At the same time, China's GDP is currently less than one half that of the United States, with the result that China employs more than twice as much carbon per unit of output than the United States, for instance.

What could China do? Of course wind power and solar power are options. However, China might also take a hint from its own Navy, which boasts ten nuclear-powered submarines, one of which is pictured above. While China is rapidly modernizing its own navy, and, according to some reports, planning to deploy a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier by 2020, the nation truly lags behind several other nations when it comes to non-military nuclear power. Indeed, according to one source, China ranks 9th in the world in nuclear power generation, behind Ukraine, Canada and South Korea, to name a few. Indeed, while China produces more output than France, for instance, France generates six times more electricity with nuclear power than does China. (The United States generates more than 12 times more electricty with nuclear power than does China.) According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, China's coal-fired power plants had just under 496 gigawatts of generating capacity in 2007. That's less than the combined nuclear generating capacity of France (418 gigawatts) and Canada (84 gigawatts) in 2008.

If China is truly serious about moving to a clean energy economy, it should get with the (nuclear) program.