China approaches reprocessing commitment

26 April 2013

China is to reprocess used reactor fuel at a plant supplied by Areva, according to a letter of intent signed in Beijing yesterday.

The agreement sets out the technical specifications of the future plant, the project's organisation and the scope of work for the partners, Areva and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Areva said it was a milestone that represented a signature on part of acontract for sale. Heads of those companies Luc Oursel and Sun Qin put pen to paper in the presence of French and Chinese Presidents Francois Hollande and Xi Jinping on 25 April during an official visit.

Hollande, Xi, April 2013 (Elysee - P Segrette) 250x165
Hollande and Xi shake on it
(Image: Elysee / P Segrette)

China has planned to reprocess its used reactor fuel since the start of its nuclear power program in the late 1980s. At the moment fuel is building up at the sites of the 17 power reactors in operation and at a centralised store at its fuel cycle centre near Lanzhou in central Gansu province. Expansion in coming years would be timely as the country brings several new reactors on-line each year. By 2020 about 1000 tonnes of used reactor fuel will have amassed and over 40 reactors could be in operation and adding to the total.

The reprocessing plant will have the capacity to handle 800 tonnes of this per year, said Areva. When in operation it would break down the fuel into three main streams: recyclable fuels like uranium and plutonium, highly radioactive waste elements and the remains of contaminated metal cladding. Fuel materials can then be incorporated into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel or fast neutron reactor fuel and used several times over for power generation, while the wastes will be in a compact form ready for underground disposal. China expects to set up a disposal facility at one of three candidate sites, all also in Gansu province.

Areva operates reprocessing facilities with a total capacity of 1700 tonne per year at La Hague in France, and also supplied the bulk of the scope of a 800 tonne per year plant for Japan Nuclear Fuels Ltd at Rokkasho.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News