Economic Aspects of Civilian Reprocessing in China
Author: Hui Zhang, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom
Currently, China is pursuing a long-term expansion of its nuclear power program and plans to reprocess the resulting civilian spent fuel, recycling the plutonium in MOX fuel for LWRs and in fast breeder reactors. China presently operates three civilian nuclear power reactors, but it plans to build about 20 reactors by 2020. A pilot civilian reprocessing plant has been built at Lanzhou, with a capacity 50 metric tons of spent fuel per year. This plant is ready to start operations now. A key decision now hanging in the balance is whether to proceed with expensive plans to build a larger commercial reprocessing plant, with a capacity of up to 800 tons per year, by 2020. At the same time, China started construction of an experimental fast reactor with a power of 25 MWe in May 2000, and will have to decide whether to build a 300 MWe breeder by 2015, as currently planned. This paper examines whether nuclear reprocessing makes sense for China, taking into account costs, spent fuel management, and proliferation risks. It discusses the status of China’s breeder and civilian reprocessing programs, estimates the cumulative of discharged spent fuel and storage capacity in China, and discussion of economics of reprocessing in China. It concludes that China does not urgently need to pursue civilian reprocessing in the foreseeable future. China should instead use interim storage for its spent fuels.
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