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January 03, 2011

China claims success with nuclear fuel reprocessing

Chinese scientists have made a breakthrough in spent fuel reprocessing technology. China, as well as France, the United Kingdom and Russia, actively supports reprocessing as a means for the management of highly radioactive spent fuel and as a source of fissile material for future nuclear fuel supply. The technology, developed and tested at the No.404 Factory of China National Nuclear Corp in the Gobi desert in remote Gansu province, enables the re-use of irradiated fuel and is able to boost the usage rate of uranium materials at nuclear plants by 60 folds.

There are few details so far so it is unclear if China has made improvements to the reprocessing processes that are done in France and Japan.

UPDATE: This is most likely not a breakthrough but the execution of an 800-to-1000 tonne/year plant that is part of the deal inked in 2007 with Areva. That deal also includes two 1600 MW EPR reactors and 20% of Areva’s uranium output from Canadian mines.



Dan Yurman coverage of the Areva deal in November 2007 (Fuel Cycle Week 11/26/07.)

“France and China will become long-term partners in spent nuclear fuel reprocessing. Areva signed a separate agreement with China National Nuclear Corporation to begin a feasibility study to build a spent fuel reprocessing plant. The plant could be worth EU$15 billion / US$22.3 billion at today's exchange rates according to a report from the Bloomberg wire service.”

World Nuclear Association has information on China's fuel reprocessing

A pilot (50 t/yr) reprocessing plant using the Purex process was opened in 2006 at Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex. This is capable of expansion to 100 t/yr and was commissioning in 2009, possibly at this level. A large (800-1000 t/yr) commercial reprocessing plant based on indigenous advanced technology was planned to follow and begin operation about 2020, but has probably been superseded by the Areva project.

In November 2007, Areva and CNNC signed an agreement to assess the feasibility of setting up a reprocessing plant for used fuel and a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant in China, representing an investment of €15 billion. The 800 t/yr reprocessing plant will apparently be at Jiayuguan in Gansu province, employing advanced French technology and operated by Areva. Design, construction and commissioning was expected to take ten years from 2010. In November 2010, an industrial agreement on this was signed, which Areva said was "the final step towards a commercial contract" for the project.

The China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) shows an industrial reprocessing plant of about 1000 t/yr in operation from about 2021.

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