“The Real China Syndrome”

The China Syndrome was a 1979 American thriller film that tells the story of a television reporter and her cameraman who discover safety cover-ups at a nuclear power plant, staring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas” – ref. Wikipedia. “China Syndrome” is an imaginary term not intended to be taken literally, that describes a fictional worst-case scenario of a nuclear meltdown, where reactor fuel rods melt through their containment structures and into the underlying earth, “all the way to China”. What is ironic is that people actually believed this Hollywood fantasy then and a lot of people still do today even after the 2 actual meltdowns (TMI and Fukushima) that never left the building and no one ever died from radiation exposure. The Real China Syndrome is not about one nuclear power plant but 100’s of nuclear power plants.

China has embarked on the biggest energy expansion in world history. All energy sources in China are growing and China is diversifying its energy mix like no other country in the world. China is poised to be the world leader in nuclear energy in all ways; in the number of reactors in the country, in exporting the technology to other countries, and in industrial cooperation with other world nuclear leaders. China is steadily firing up new nuclear reactors and will begin construction of a new nuclear reactor every three weeks on average for the next few decades.

In addition to building their own nuclear reactors, Canada and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding and a Framework Joint Venture Agreement on nuclear energy projects, particularly to build Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactors in China and then globally. Not to be outdone, the UK and China signed two agreements this year to build Chinese-designed nuclear reactors in the UK as well as enabling Chinese companies to invest in nuclear power plant projects. So where is the US Government while all this is happening? Out to lunch! And then there is China’s new infrastructure investment bank, a potential rival to the World Bank and other financial institutions backed by the United States. Hey World Bank, there is a new kid on the block that doesn’t play by your rules.

China’s energy quest doesn’t stop with nuclear energy. China is the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power; China has over four quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves exceeding even those in the United States; China signed a $400 billion natural gas deal for Russia to provide China with 1.3 Tcf of natural gas per year for the next 30 years; China is expanding gas pipeline infrastructure to keep up with demand; China is developing coal-to-gas process plants in Inner Mongolia, and is building the largest LNG infrastructure in the world for natural gas export; China produces and uses more coal than any other country in the world; China just became the largest importer of oil in the world; China has been working on the biggest water diversion project in history, and when completed, will be one of the world’s greatest engineering feats and China has passed the U.S. in electricity generation. That is the real China syndrome.

While environmental groups actually supported the fantasy projected in a movie and managed to convince the US Government to halt all nuclear power plant development the last 40 years, the rest of the world continued on with nuclear energy programs. If you don’t build a technology, the intellectual base will disappear. Once that happens the markets for that technology will also go elsewhere. There is still time to restart an advance nuclear reactor program in the US again and that time is NOW!

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One thought on ““The Real China Syndrome”

  1. actinideage

    Last time I watched that film, I tallied every death depicted or mentioned (morbid, I know, but bear with me). Plane crash: 6, storm: 1, police shooting: 1, vehicular homicide: 1. 0 dead or even injured by radiation or even via nuclear plant machinery. The reactor wasn’t even damaged, it SCRAMed twice, as designed, though feedwater was nearly lost the first time, of course. In fact take the professional nuclear misinformer out of the picture and the film would have just been about a vague failure of the NRC to check all the paperwork (weld xrays duplicated by corner-cutting greedy corporate managers), and a reactor that worked regardless and demonstrated defense in depth.

    Many folks expect the next nuclear accident to be in China. Perhaps, but expecting it to be a meltdown is a symptom of nuclear exceptionalism: specifically, that we can’t foresee EVERY possible issue, and therefore it will eventually happen. This attitude assumes that understanding of the physics and engineering has stood stock still for 50 years – utterly ridiculous, and in most cases clearly motivated by bias. *There’s only a finite number of things that can go wrong* and experience shows they are all related to inadequate cooling. I rather expect the next nuclear accident will see quite adequate cooling maintained. Whether the media gives it deserved credit is another matter.

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