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Xi’s climate goals boost China’s nuclear industry

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Xi’s climate goals boost China’s nuclear industry

At Karachi’s Paradise Point, on the coastline of Pakistan, China’s long-term ambition for a world-leading nuclear energy industry is coming into view.

For nearly half a century, power at the site — Pakistan’s first nuclear operation — was delivered by Canadian-designed reactors. But, last year, Pakistani nuclear officials gave their final approval for new Hualong-1 reactors, which represent the first exports of China National Nuclear Corporation’s third-generation power station technology.

By March, Xu Pengfei, chair of the China Nuclear Power Engineering Corporation, was able to tell CGTN, China’s state broadcaster, that the units were “operating successfully”, and had demonstrated a “collaborative effort at innovation”, with domestic suppliers providing more than 90 per cent of the equipment.

Nuclear power remains a growth industry in China. Over the past decade, the capacity of installed plants has more than doubled, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency. As of April this year, China had 55 reactors with installed capacity of 53 gigawatts, up from fewer than 20GW in 2014.

At present, the US is still the world’s biggest user of nuclear power, with 94 operational reactors with an installed capacity of 96GW. However, China is building new reactors at a faster pace than any other country. It has 26 reactors under construction, with an installed capacity of about 30GW.

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While Beijing’s original rationale for expanding nuclear power was energy security, the technology’s potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions has become increasingly important to policymakers, according to researcher Philip Andrews-Speed in an analysis for the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES).

A key moment came in September 2020, when Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced that the country’s carbon emissions would peak before 2030 and hit net zero by 2060.

Policymakers in Beijing believe nuclear power can help replace coal-fired plants, which are still the main source of China’s electricity despite a rapid growth in renewables. And they are on track to deliver: China’s policy is in line with International Energy Agency estimates that global nuclear power capacity will have to double by 2050 to hit net zero goals.

In recent months, nuclear power technology has also been heralded in China as a “new productive force” — part of Xi’s vision of long-term economic growth underpinned by increasingly advanced manufacturing industries.

Michal Meidan, head of China energy research at OIES, says that nuclear energy is “definitely part of the solution” for China’s decarbonisation plans, especially given the country has its own nuclear industry that could generate revenues and growth internationally.

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But the rapid expansion of the nuclear industry in China has raised questions over resource security, safety, regulation, and export plans as geopolitical tensions rise. Meidan notes that Chinese attempts to export nuclear technology have “faced resistance”, mainly in Romania and the UK, amid a wider backlash against China in Europe and the US.

“Globally, nuclear is quite a divisive question,” Meidan says. “It clearly has environmental attributes that can help but safety, fuel reprocessing and uranium availability are concerns . . . It’s unclear how big a role nuclear will play in China’s energy transition.”

Last year, nuclear power accounted for about 5 per cent of total electricity generation in China but investment in construction of new plants reached $13.1bn — the highest in five years.

As more reactors swing into production, nuclear’s contribution to China’s electricity generation mix is expected to rise to about 10 per cent by 2035 and 18 per cent by 2060, according to the China Nuclear Energy Association.

$13.1bnInvestment in new nuclear power construction in China in 2023 — a five-year high

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David Fishman, an analyst at The Lantau Group, a consultancy, says the pace of growth of nuclear power in China over recent years means that the country is probably at “maximum capacity for the industry”, with regulatory agencies and the supply chain at particular risk of strain.

“To staff all the plants, you need to have nuclear . . . and chemical engineering graduates . . . and then the equivalent number of people in Beijing, at the regulatory end, who are able to manage all the plants, who are able to do safety inspections, and checks and reviews,” he says.

Fishman also notes that China is reluctant to become reliant on the “vagaries of the international markets” for its long-term uranium supply. China has a policy of sourcing roughly one-third of its uranium domestically, one-third from Chinese companies’ holdings in foreign mines, and one-third from the international spot market.

“But the fact still remains that they don’t have a lot of domestic uranium, so that could be a concern at some point,” Fishman says.

Li Shuo, director of the China Climate Hub at the Asia Society Policy Institute, a think-tank, says a key domestic question is whether Beijing decides to expand its nuclear energy capacity from the eastern and southern coastline — where it is currently concentrated — into the country’s vast inland areas. Experts suggest that such plans could be included in the country’s 15th Five-Year Plan period, from 2026-2030.

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Li, who previously led Greenpeace’s China climate change team in Beijing, says that, while public perception of nuclear power in China is “neutral”, in the early 2010s a debate on whether to expand the industry inland drew furious responses from the provinces concerned.

“Nuclear is certainly not as controversial as in some of the continental European countries, such as Germany, or in Japan,” Li observes. “Having said that, inland power plants will be very controversial, simply because, if an accident happens, it will have a very large-scale impact for downstream provinces.”

Still, China’s advances in nuclear technology, thanks to lavish state support, mean that — like the country’s solar, wind and electric vehicle industries — its nuclear power sector is also looking outward, to reshape global energy markets.

Although there is resistance to Chinese nuclear projects in many western countries, the Chinese-made reactors at Karachi’s Paradise Point are just the start of an export push.

Over the next decade, China has plans to build and finance reactors across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, according to Lami Kim, director of the Asian Studies Program at the US Army War College. She says this strategy could have “significant implications”, as Beijing shapes global nuclear governance and shifts the balance of power away from the US.

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Live news: AI demand propels SK Hynix to highest profit in 6 years

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Live news: AI demand propels SK Hynix to highest profit in 6 years
Shoppers crowd Seoul’s Myeongdong district, but analysts expect South Korean domestic spending to deteriorate © Hon Wah Oong/Dreamstime

South Korea’s economy unexpectedly contracted in the second quarter on cooling consumer spending despite stronger exports, increasing expectations of an interest rate cut in the coming months.

Gross domestic product in the April-June quarter shrank 0.2 per cent from a quarter earlier in seasonally adjusted terms, according to the Bank of Korea, while analysts polled by Reuters forecast a 0.1 per cent rise.

This marks the sharpest contraction in six quarters, following 1.3 per cent growth in the first quarter.

Private consumption fell 0.2 per cent and construction spending dropped 1.1 per cent, while exports rose 0.9 per cent.

Capital Economics expects domestic spending to deteriorate, prompting the Bank of Korea to cut interest rates in October, but cautioned that there was an increased chance of a rate cut in August.  

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Will Harris sway PA voters? A Pittsburgh area Democrat and Republican each have a say

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Will Harris sway PA voters? A Pittsburgh area Democrat and Republican each have a say

Left: Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling, Right: John Wink

Nate Smallwood for NPR


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Nate Smallwood for NPR

PITTSBURGH – Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling of Moon Township, a municipality that sits a few miles northwest of Pittsburgh, smiles as a server at local staple Primanti Brothers delivers a sandwich stacked higher than a double AA battery.

The story that locals like Madonna-Emmerling tell is that this Pittsburgh-style sandwich – layered with coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries – was created so that local blue collar workers could drive large trucks and eat with one hand while on a shift.

The sandwich ties back to her family’s history – and that of many other residents in the area – of working in the steel industry and other blue collar jobs, many of which disappeared long ago. Her father was an auto worker involved in the local union. That led to her now working as a community organizer and “multi-hyphenate” political pot stirrer, she said.

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When there were talks of closing a local school, she protested. She’s president of the library board and fought to keep a LGBTQ book on the shelves. She’s run for public office and trained activists to knock on doors at election time to shore up votes for Democrats.

But selling locals on President Biden at the top of the ticket has proven a struggle. His poor showing at the June debate with former President Donald Trump zapped a lot of energy. Then came the attempted assassination on Trump in nearby Butler, which caused a lot of “whiplash” in this area where many voters don’t adhere strictly to one party or the other.

“People are a little bit checked out. People are very tired. And we’re just trying to say, ‘OK , you’re going to be tired about the top of the ticket, but there’s still work to do,’” Madonna-Emmerling said, noting that some door-knocking efforts were slowed down after the shooting out of respect for Republican voters.

She couldn’t quite see a way forward.

Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling poses for a portrait outside a restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling poses for a portrait outside a restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

Nate Smallwood for NPR

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But then came the historic news that Biden was dropping out and making way for Vice President Harris to take his place. While she wasn’t necessarily calling for Biden to drop out, Madonna-Emmerling said she feels like his decision may prove a consequential one in Pennsylvania, which will again prove key to winning the White House.

“It was a literal exhalation, shoulders lowering,” Madonna-Emmerling said. “We’ve stopped the bleeding.”

More and more volunteers, she said, have called her in recent days about voter outreach efforts since Biden’s move.

“Plug in, let’s go,” she told them. “Get on the train. We’re all going together to the top.”

Their involvement in getting more voters to turn out could make all the difference in Moon Township, and other suburbs that surround Pittsburgh, which historically have voted for Republicans.

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Trump won most of Moon Township’s 13 voting precincts in 2016 when he carried the state, according to Allegheny County Election Results data. And though most precincts again went his way in 2020, Democrats and Joe Biden picked up support in the town, when almost 2,000 more people voted. The same happened in small counties across the state, between here and Philadelphia and helped Democrats win the swing state back.

With the vice president now in the race, a new NPR poll found that the presidential race has hit a bit of a reset. Trump and Harris are now statistically tied, and some independent voters now say they are undecided,

Madonna-Emmerling feels that Harris’ campaign has injected new energy into Democrats, and she feels that the vice president’s background as a prosecutor is a winning combination and makes her an “ideal suburban candidate.”

Polling in the immediate aftermath of Biden’s endorsement for Harris shows she has more work to do with suburban voters, but also has more opportunity with folks in these areas who may now be undecided.

“Often in the suburbs, people want someone who is pro-public safety, pro-police,” Madonna-Emmerling said, adding that many in the area have family who are former military now working in law enforcement. “That can be a really hard barrier to overcome sometimes. And when you can say this is a clear case of a prosecutor against a felon, it’s a home run.”

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But across town, a local Republican says, “We’ll see …”

Moon Township’s elected Republican tax collector John Wink, speaking to NPR from his backyard on a slightly muggy afternoon, said he believes the luster of Harris replacing Biden at the top of the ticket will wear off in the coming weeks.

“We’ll see if that lasts,” Wink said. “I think she’s a terrible candidate. When she actually ran for president, she couldn’t get votes.”

John Wink poses for a portrait outside his home in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

John Wink poses for a portrait outside his home in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

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The core issues that Wink said he feels matter most to voters in this part of Pennsylvania – how they are currently experiencing inflation and securing the U.S.-Mexico border – still favor Trump.

Wink, who serves on the GOP’s state committee, has lived in the Pittsburgh area since he was two years old. His father was once mayor of Hampton Township, north of the city. Wink said he started working on campaigns, stuffing envelopes and putting mailers together for candidates, as early as 15 years old.

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And his wife serves on the library board alongside Democrat Madonna-Emmerling.

Residents and voters here are by and large happy with how the town is run, regardless of the party affiliation of those running the local government, he feels. The roads are well maintained and the police force is good, he added.

It’s Pennsylvania’s status as a swing state, closely watched by national politics, that makes living here interesting from a political perspective, Wink said.

“I’m glad Pennsylvania is a swing state, much more interesting than if it was one way or the other,” Wink said. “It’s a whole lot more fun.”

One of his gauges for how elections might go is looking at campaign signs in front yards.

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“I kind of thought Trump was in trouble in 2020 because I was seeing too many Biden signs, much more so than in 2016, where there were very little in the way of Hillary signs,” Wink remembered.

His verdict right now? It’s too early. There aren’t that many signs out yet, Wink said, but he’s still confident Trump will win.

So what are the keys for Trump and Harris here?

Wink said many local Republicans are excited to vote for Trump again, though he said he wished the party had nominated a younger candidate.

He would’ve liked to see Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley be the nominee. But Trump won the primaries, and Wink plans to vote for him.

Moon Township a suburban town in Allegheny County on July 24, 2024.

Moon Township a suburban town in Allegheny County on July 24, 2024.

Nate Smallwood for NPR

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As for whether Moon Township and areas nearby will vote for Trump or Harris, if she becomes the nominee as expected, Wink and Madonna-Emmerling have a similar view.

Families and seniors on fixed incomes here are struggling with the cost of groceries and other costs of living. Under Trump, “things were humming along pretty well,” Wink said, and if Republicans can communicate that message and get their lower-propensity voters to turn out, the election will be theirs.

Madonna-Emmerling thinks voters here will want a candidate to be honest and relatable and Harris fits the bill.

She says people in this community work hard and care about their families and those around them. Speaking authentically to that could motivate those among them who are non-voters to head to the polls.

“Don’t be fake,” Madonna-Emmerling advised. “We have a strong bull**** detector.”

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The audio version of this story was produced by Taylor Haney and edited by Gabriel Spitzer.

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Kering warns on profits after Gucci sales fall almost 20%

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Kering warns on profits after Gucci sales fall almost 20%

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Kering, owner of Gucci and Saint Laurent, warned on Wednesday that its operating income could fall by as much as 30 per cent in the second half of the year, compounding the woes at the French luxury company.

One of the biggest names in luxury, Kering was a laggard compared to peers LVMH and Hermès during the pandemic-era boom and its performance has only worsened as the industry as a whole has slowed.

Kering said sales at Gucci, its biggest brand accounting for half of revenues and two-thirds of profits, have fallen further with a turnround under a new designer having so far failed to gain traction.

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Second-quarter sales at top brand Gucci fell 19 per cent on a like-for-like basis compared to one year earlier, including “a continuing marked decrease in Asia-Pacific”, Kering said.

Group sales in the three months to June 30 dropped 11 per cent to €4.5bn, and fell short of analysts’ expectations.

Operating income dropped 42 per cent in the first half of the year to €1.58bn, in line with expectations compiled by Reuters after the company guided sharply lower at its last results.

A recurring operating margin of 17.5 per cent in the first half was significantly lower than during the same period last year, which the company attributed to “negative operational leverage”.

“In a challenging market environment, which adds pressure on our top line and profitability, we are working assiduously to create the conditions for a return to growth . . . While the current context might impact the pace of our execution, our determination and confidence are stronger than ever,” said Kering chief executive François-Henri Pinault.

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Kering has said it is continuing to prioritise long-term investment in its brands despite strained demand.

Gucci is still rolling out product lines from its new designer Sabato de Sarno, which the group said were being well received by customers.

But it is not the only brand that is struggling. At Saint Laurent, Kering’s second-largest label, sales fell 9 per cent on a like-for-like basis in the second quarter, accelerating a trend from earlier in the year.

Bright spots were Bottega Veneta, where sales rose 4 per cent in the second quarter, and the company’s eyewear division, where they increased 5 per cent. 

Kering’s shares have fallen more than 23 per cent so far this year to trade at €300 each, giving it a market capitalisation of around €36.6bn.

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This is a far sharper sell-off than industry bellwether LVMH, after Kering shocked investors in April with a sharply lower profit outlook for the first half of the year. 

Controlled by the Pinault family, Kering had already issued a rare profit warning for the luxury industry in March amid falling sales, especially in the crucial Chinese market.

Smaller luxury companies Hugo Boss and Burberry, also in a turnround, have recently warned on profits. 

“More bad news and downgrades,” said Luca Solca, analyst at Bernstein. “The Kering guidance for the first half of the year is de facto materialising.”

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