Energy

Nuclear fuel feat to solve uranium shortage

By Zhou Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-04 13:08
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Efficiency hiked by 60 times, resource 'to last for 3,000 years'

BEIJING - China has made a breakthrough in spent nuclear fuel reprocessing technology, which could greatly extend uranium's usage rate and potentially solve the problem of its supply shortage.

The technology, which was developed by the No 404 factory under the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), is able to boost the usage rate of uranium materials at nuclear plants by 60 times.

"With the new technology, China's existing detected uranium resources can be used for 3,000 years," according to China Central Television (CCTV) on Monday.

China, the world's second largest economy, has more than 170,000 tons of detected uranium resources.

"We're among the few countries that can implement the recycling of nuclear fuel... As such, we, to some extent, lead the world in this field," Sun Qin, general manger of CNNC, China's largest nuclear generator, was quoted by CCTV as saying.

The nation has strived to extend the usage rate of the strategically important resource to meet growing demand. The country aims to increase its nuclear power capacity to 40 gigawatts (gW) by 2020 compared to just more than 9 gW of nuclear capacity at present.

China, as one of the world's largest energy consumers, now has 12 nuclear power plants in operation, with 25 reactors under construction.

Uranium demand in China is expected to reach 20,000 tons annually by 2020, according to figures from the World Nuclear Association. But China will be able to produce only 2,400 tons of uranium that year.

China used 1,300 to 1,600 tons of uranium in 2009, Reuters reported earlier.

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The world has around 4.7 million metric tons of identified uranium minerals. Increasing usage has sparked concerns that uranium demand may eclipse supply soon.

Extending the usage of existing uranium will help China fulfill its target to cut greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

"China has invested heavily in uranium exploration know-how and recycling technology to meet the nation's burgeoning needs and increase the ratio of nuclear energy in the total energy consumption mix," said Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University.

He added that such technology, including the recycling of spent nuclear fuel, is still at a very early stage. If it can be put into practical use, then China can be self-sufficient, he said.

Nuclear power accounted for about 2.2 percent of China's electricity generation by the end of 2009. By contrast, of the 30 countries that have nuclear power generators, 16 had 25 percent of their total electricity produced by nuclear power.