China will need at least a decade before it can reprocess spent nuclear fuel on an industrial scale, the nation’s largest nuclear power developer said in comments published in state media yesterday.
Earlier this month, China announced with great fanfare on state television that it had become one of only a handful of countries to successfully reprocess fuel, thanks to the work of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) engineers.
However, CNNC officials told a briefing on Monday it would be at least 10 years before the technology could be used on a large scale to extend the lifespan of Beijing’s proven uranium deposits, the China Daily reported.
The initial “breakthrough” — carried out at a CNNC plant in the country’s remote northwest — “is a crucial step toward initial practical application, which is likely to happen within a year,” company spokeswoman Li Tao said.
Earlier reports said the technology has the potential to allow Beijing to use its own uranium deposits for the next 3,000 years, from the current forecast of 50 to 70 years.
Beijing produces around 750 tonnes of uranium a year, but annual demand could rise to 20,000 tonnes a year by 2020, according to state media. It has proven resources of more than 170,000 tonnes.
An expert at the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, said on Monday that China would first need to upgrade its facilities.
“For China to enter into commercial recycling of irradiated nuclear fuel, they will need to construct and commission a much larger facility,” said Gary Dyck, head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Materials Section.
China’s pilot-scale plant was based on the same aqueous recycle technology used in commercial-scale plants in France, Russia and other countries, he said.
China currently has 13 nuclear reactors and has given the green light to plans for 34 others, 26 of which are already under construction.
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