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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2019

Loren Brandt
University of Toronto
Thomas G. Rawski
University of Pittsburgh
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Nuclear power epitomizes the unusual combination of quantitative expansion, rapid upgrading of technological, managerial and regulatory capabilities, growing competitiveness, burgeoning global involvement, and also potential economic, environmental and security risk surrounding Chinese innovative efforts. A combination of domestic upgrading and international cooperation has delivered a rapid buildup of capabilities in design, construction, operation, equipment manufacture and regulatory capacity alongside ambitious nuclear investment. Surprising features of China’s nuclear buildup include the centrality of enterprise initiative in an industry seemingly dominated by government controls; the strength of nuclear safety oversight in an economy with limited institutional capacity for prudential regulation; and China’s sudden and unexpected emergence as a major player in the global market for nuclear power installations – an apparent instance of Christensen’s theory of “new market disruption.” Despite its impressive advance, China’s nuclear sector faces multiple challenges arising from institutional limitations, corruption, conflicts between supply-chain inadequacies and pressure for import substitution, and an ironic confluence of overseas market success with a sudden erosion in the financial underpinnings of nuclear electricity production in China itself.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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