Hot Potato–China’s spent fuel

Hot Potato–China’s spent fuel


  • Release Date: January 20, 2017

Along with the rapid development of the nuclear industry in China, the spent fuel reprocessing sees a broad prospective market. It is predicted that by 2020, China will generate more than 7900tons of the spent fuel, which could bring more than 50billion yuan market value. In the recently published “Energy Development Plan of China”, it also reiterates that China will accelerate and push forward the construction of the spent fuel reprocessing plant.
However, as one of the most complicated and challenging chemical processing, the spent fuel reprocessing has become the most controversial issue in the nuclear development around the world.
With the increase of the nuclear installed capacity, China will have more than 1000tons of the spent fuel in one year. However, it has only one 50-ton class reprocessing plant established in Gansu Province. Compared with the India who has already had 3 hundred-ton class plants, China’s current plant cannot meet the demand of the spent fuel reprocessing market at all. It is noteworthy that in the whole nuclear energy system, the proper treatment of the spent fuel plays a key role.

It harasses the regulators quite a lot regarding how to deal with the tens of thousands of spent fuel in the case of reprocessing capability insufficiency. A Chinese nuclear expert pointed out that “Most of the storage-transport-handling technologies of the backend spent fuel of China rely on the import. Nevertheless, China can only reprocess a little part of the colossal spent fuel every year. Without reprocessing plant, China’s commercial power stations would have to store the spent fuel in the pool. In general, the spent fuel pool is designed to meet 15-20 year storage needs.
The chief engineer of the Nuclear Radiation and Safety Center Mr. Chai Guohan disclosed that at present the spent fuel pool of Daya Bay NPP has reached its limit, while the one in Tianwan NPP has been close to the limit and the standby wet-processing storage facility has already no further capacity any longer.

The establishment of the spent fuel reprocessing supply chain has been an urgent matter in China. However, China is frustrated with the fact that it has no advanced spent fuel reprocessing technology. And the industrial ability to treat the spent fuel is weak, and the process, equipment and QA cannot meet the requirements of handling the spent fuel in a continuous and large-capacity way.
Whether it relies on the self-developed technology or the technology transfer from overseas, the investment to a large scale spent fuel reprocessing plant is higher than that of the general power plants. It requires almost 10 years to be established and the investment cash shall be at least several 100billion yuan. Many industry insiders indicated that no continuous put-in and lack of the national top-level planning is the one of the sources which causes the current dilemma of the spent fuel reprocessing. And on the other hand, the public concern for the environment and safety in the resident areas regarding the spent fuel reprocessing issues is also a headache for the nuclear regulators.

*Spent Fuel, is kind of the irradiated and used nuclear fuel which needs to be removed from the reactor after a period. It doesn’t equal to the nuclear waste. Usually it is generated by the nuclear reactors in the plant with low uranium content and therefore cannot maintain the nuclear reaction. Since it contains a large amount of the radioactive element, it could have a serious impact on the ecosystem and people’s health if not properly treated.


About Author

Elaine Li

Elaine Li (李益楠) is Marketing Manager for the Chinese Market. With ten years of experience in the nuclear power market, Elaine is experts for the certification of safety equipment (HAF 604 and 601) and marketing intelligence.