When Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif broke ground recently on a China-supplied nuclear power station that should help alleviate his country's pressing energy shortages, the New York Times pointed out that "Pakistani officials have provided few details of how they plan to finance it."
The answer began to fall into place yesterday: China, the same country that is providing the reactor, will lend Pakistan $6.5 billion for the project, the Financial Times reported.
The two-reactor plant will increase the country's electricity generating capacity by 15 percent over current levels, according to the FT. How short is Pakistan on electricity? To give you some perspective: The country of 182 million people has a capacity of about 21 gigawatts, compared to the U.S., a country of about 314 million people, which has a capacity of about 1,100 gigawatts.
From a nuclear vantage point, the Chinese build-and-finance scheme echoes Russia's advances on the international nuclear power scene. As I wrote last spring, Moscow, through state-owned company Rosatom, is effectively offering to "rent the car and the driver too" as it promotes a plan to build, finance and operate nuclear plants abroad for up to 60 years. At the time, Russia had agreements to build reactors -- not necessarily deploying all three prongs of the plan -- in Turkey, Vietnam, China, India, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
Nuclear plants represent a good way for energy-needy countries to add large amounts of reliable, round-the-clock, low carbon electricity. China and Russia, far more than the U.S. by comparison, are seizing on a growing interest among developing countries in deploying atomic power. They could profit financially in the long run, and they will almost certainly gain geopolitical clout.