Russia and China have emerged as major players in the field of nuclear power, collectively accounting for nearly 70 per cent of reactors under construction or in the planning stages worldwide.
In contrast, Japan, the United States, and Europe have experienced a slowdown in their nuclear industries following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.
According to the Japan Electric Power Information Center, as of January, there were 110 third-generation nuclear reactors, which incorporate enhanced safety measures post-Chernobyl, being constructed or planned.
China leads the pack with 46 reactors, followed by Russia with 30, together comprising 69 per cent of the total, as per a report in Asia Nikkei.
What is noteworthy is that 33 of these reactors are being developed outside their respective countries. Russia, in particular, has 19 overseas reactor projects, maintaining its global influence in nuclear power despite facing opposition from Europe and the United States due to its invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently participated in a ceremony for the under-construction Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey, which is set to become Turkey's first nuclear facility. This project exemplifies the close ties between Russia and Turkey, raising concerns in the West.
Russia's nuclear power diplomacy extends beyond Turkey. In May, Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom commenced full-scale construction on Unit 3 of Egypt's Dabaa nuclear plant, marking Egypt's entry into nuclear power.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban also held discussions with Rosatom officials regarding the construction of a new nuclear power plant in southern Hungary. Hungary's support for Rosatom contradicts the sanctions imposed by the European Union on the company.
Developing countries, in general, view Russia favorably, and its acceptance of spent nuclear fuel appeals to emerging nations seeking alternative energy solutions.
Meanwhile, China has deepened its involvement with Pakistan. The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority recently issued an operating permit for Unit 3 of the Karachi nuclear power plant, which utilizes the Hualong One reactor designed by Chinese entities, including the state-owned China National Nuclear Corp.
China's engagement in Pakistan goes beyond financial assistance, including the construction of the Karachi Unit 2 reactor.
China's nuclear ambitions extend to Argentina as well, where it plans to construct a nuclear plant. Despite opposition from the United States, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez decided to proceed with the project, dismissing concerns raised about China as a US-promoted narrative in an interview with Chinese media.
Chinese exports of the Hualong One reactor to emerging countries are expected to increase, solidifying China's dominance in nuclear power. This could bolster China and Russia's influence in the international political arena, given the significance of nuclear power for energy security.
In contrast, the United States, Japan, and Europe aim to catch up by leveraging small modular reactors (SMRs), which represent fourth-generation technology.
SMRs are relatively compact, with an output of 300 megawatts or less. They are designed with enhanced safety features, enabling easier cooling of nuclear fuel in case of accidents.
Japan also intends to build eight new reactors, including one at the Oma nuclear power plant, currently under construction in Aomori prefecture.
Although safety standards were tightened after the Fukushima disaster, causing delays in reactor screenings, the Japanese government changed course due to a power supply shortage. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has called for the replacement of existing reactors with safer next-generation models.
However, Japan's competitiveness in nuclear power has declined, evident from the decrease in nuclear-related exports from 131.4 billion Yen in 2010 to 21.4 billion Yen in 2020.
Similar trends are observed in the United States and various parts of Europe due to concerns surrounding the construction of new reactors.
Another challenge lies in nuclear fuel, specifically uranium enrichment, where Western nations face limitations. Russia currently leads in uranium enrichment globally.
In April, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and Japan formed a nuclear fuel alliance aimed at reducing dependence on Russian fuel in Western reactors. However, achieving this goal will not be a simple task due to the complexities involved.
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