Chinese scientists have mastered the technology for reprocessing nuclear fuel, potentially yielding additional power sources to keep the country’s economy booming, state television has reported.
The breakthrough will extend by many times the amount of power that can be generated from China’s nuclear plants by allowing the recovery of fissile and fertile materials to provide new fuel, CCTV said.
Several European countries, Russia, India and Japan already reprocess nuclear fuel – the materials used to make nuclear energy – to separate out and recover the unused uranium and plutonium, reduce waste and close the nuclear cycle for safety reasons. Each country’s process is generally considered an industrial secret and not shared.
Both the recovered plutonium and – when prices are high – the uranium can then be re-used as fuel. Some types of reactors can use other components that are reprocessed, potentially multiplying the amount of energy that results from the original uranium fuel by about 60 times.
China, which has had nuclear weapons for decades, has known supplies of nuclear fuel to last 50 to 70 years, but the new process could yield enough extra fuel to potentially extend that to 3000 years, the report said.
Chinese scientists have been working on the technology for more than 20 years, but the details of the process they developed are being kept secret, CCTV said.
However, nuclear blogger Dan Yurman wrote on Nuke Notes that the Chinese development is most likely not a breakthrough, but the execution of an 800 to 1000 tonnes/year plant that is part of the deal inked in 2007 with Areva. That deal also included two 1600 MW EPR reactors, uranium enrichment technology, and 20 per cent of Areva’s uranium output from Canadian mines.