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March 24, 2010

China Loading Used Light Water Nuclear Reactor Fuel Into CANDU Heavy Water Reactor

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The first re-use of nuclear fuel in a Candu reactor has started at Qinshan nuclear power plant in China.

Over the next six months, another 24 of the 'natural uranium equivalent' (NUE) bundles will be used in two of the reactor's fuel channels. If successful over a one-year trial, this practice could help China get more energy from its imported uranium and reduce stocks of highly-radioactive used nuclear fuel at the same time.



To make this first batch of NUE fuel, Qinshan managers collaborated with AECL, the Nuclear Power Institute of China and China North Nuclear Fuel Corporation. Fuel that had previously been used was processed to recover unspent uranium and this was mixed with some depleted uranium to achieve a mix with the same overall characteristics as natural uranium. Technical challenges in doing this included the highly-radioactive nature of the used fuel and achieving the right blend of depleted uranium and the recovered stocks still enriched up to around 1.6%.

A report late in 2009 suggested that China should build another two Candu reactors as part of a used fuel managment strategy.

A program in South Korea has pursued similar goals for some time. Dupic (Direct Use of PWR fuel in Candu) envisages the used fuel pellets from PWR fuel being broken up, heated to drive off radioactive fission products and then reformed for use in Candu fuel. Using Candu reactors in a similar way is also under investigation in Ukraine.

Canada Atomic Energy of Canada needs this to work for any meaningful future for its reactors and the company. The only other business for the makers of CANDU would be supporting the legacy fleet of reactors until they are decommissioned. This would provide them with a unique capability and niche service for extending uranium supplies. This would last until there were other better ways to extend uranium with better deep burn reactors.

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