Milestone for expanding Chinese fuel plant

30 October 2008

China's Yibin nuclear fuel fabrication facility has reached an annual output of 400 tonnes per year, according to the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).


The plant, in Sichuan Province, produces fuel for the country's pressurized water reactors (PWRs) and was set up in 1982. By 2005, its capacity was reported as 200 tonnes per year. Since September, it has been manufacturing fuel for China's Qinshan Phase I and Phase II, Daya Bay and Ling Ao nuclear power plants as well as for Pakistan's Chashma, according to CNNC.


The capacity increase is part of a planned incremental expansion, which operator China Jianzhong Nuclear Fuel Co Ltd, a CNNC subsidiary, intends to continue. Previously reported figures have suggested that the plant is likely to reach a capacity of 600 tonnes per year by 2010, reaching 1000 tonnes or more per year by 2020. It is due to start fabricating fuel for the Russian-designed VVER units at Tianwan in 2009.


CNNC's second fuel fabrication plant at Baotou, Inner Mongolia, makes fuel for the Candu pressurized heavy water reactors at Qinshan Phase III. Although China's goal is ultimately to become self sufficient in nuclear fuel supply, reactor vendor Areva will be providing the first two cores and 17 reloads for the EPR reactors it is due to start building at Taishan. Likewise, Westinghouse will be supplying first cores and some re-loads for the AP1000 reactors it has contracted to build at Sanmen and Haiyang.
China has eleven operating nuclear power plants with some 20 more units about to start or in the earliest stages of construction. The country has plans to increase its nuclear capacity sixfold by 2020 and then a further three to fourfold reaching 120-160 GWe by 2030. Despite these ambitious plans, nuclear would still only represent a small share of the country's burgeoning electricity demand – the 50-60 GWe planned for 2020 would only represent about 5% of Chinese generation.


China's first power plants were supplied by overseas reactor vendors, but the country openly plans to become self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle, and even to emerge as a player in the world reactor and fuel cycle market.