The Asian superpower is more than a decade ahead of the US, an American think tank has declared A view of the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in Lianyungang city, China, December 16, 2022 © Getty Images

China is building nuclear reactors faster than the US, and Chinese nuclear firms are up to 15 years ahead of their American counterparts when it comes to the latest reactor technology, according to a new report by a US think tank.

There are currently 56 operational nuclear reactors in China, with 27 more under construction, the Washington-based Information Technology & Innovation Foundation stated in a report published on Monday. With authorities in Beijing aiming to complete between six and eight new nuclear plants every year for the foreseeable future, the report’s authors predict that China will have more operational plants than the US by 2030.

However, China is already leading the US when it comes to so-called ‘fourth-generation’ reactors, the report noted. The world’s first fourth-generation plant – the 200 megawatt gas-cooled Shidaowan-1 facility in China’s Shandong province – came online in December, with China’s Nuclear Energy Administration boasting that “90% of the technology in the new plant was developed within China.”

“China likely stands 10 to 15 years ahead of where the United States is in nuclear power,” the report stated. “Looking ahead, China appears likely to use this established domestic capacity as a foundation for competitive reactor exports, much as its ‘dual-circulation’ strategy has accomplished in other areas, such as electric vehicles and batteries.”

China rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal – report China rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal – report

The US still has more operational nuclear plants than any other country, with 94 operational reactors to China’s 56. However, China tripled its nuclear capacity over the last decade, adding as much power in 10 years as the US did in 40.

Back in 1973, then US President Richard Nixon called for the construction of 1,000 nuclear plants by the year 2000, in a bid to lessen US dependence on foreign energy in the wake of the 1973 Oil Crisis. A glut of reactors were built between the 1970s and 1990s, but the nuclear boom fizzled out when global oil prices stabilized and shale gas extraction exploded in the early 2000s.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average American nuclear plant is now 42 years old. Two new reactors came online at a plant in Georgia in 2023 and 2024, but both were completed years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, and no additional reactors are under construction anywhere in the country.

China’s success is a result of “state financing, [a] state supported supply chain, and a state commitment to build the technology,” industry analyst Kenneth Luongo wrote in the report. China’s state-owned banks can offer loans to energy firms with interest rates as low as 1.4%, allowing them to build plants for around $2,500 to $3,000 per kilowatt, about a third of the cost of recent projects in the United States.

“It is generally agreed the US has lost its global dominance in nuclear energy,” Luongo wrote.