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China Seeks New Nuclear Designs Using Less Uranium

Published by MAC on 2006-02-22

China Seeks New Nuclear Designs Using Less Uranium


22th February 2006

China's ambitious nuclear power plans could tighten global supplies of uranium, leading the nation's power developers to pursue designs that use less of the raw material, industry executives said on Tuesday.

Beijing plans to quadruple installed nuclear power capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2020, a plan which requires developers to start construction of two or three 1,000 megawatt units each year.

"We are developing new technologies since the price of uranium is going up," Shen Rugang, deputy general manager of China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co., told reporters at an energy forum in Shanghai.

"But technologies like fast-breeder reactors allow us to extend the life of the uranium, and eke more out of it."

World uranium prices have more than tripled since 2004 to about $35 a pound, as nations trying to cut pollution take another look at nuclear power. China's plan to build as many as 30 new reactors has galvanized new exploration and investments.

Fast-breeder reactors, a concept under development since the 1960s, are designed to produce more nuclear fuel than they consume.

China could consider joint ventures to explore for and mine uranium in countries like Australia, said Shen Wenquan, a vice chairman at China National Nuclear Corp, without providing further details.

"Uranium prices are up a lot and given current developments, they are likely to continue to rise. But they are still low in comparison with fuel prices for oil-fired plants," Shen said.

Electricity generated by nuclear plants is still cheaper than that from coal-fired plants in southern and coastal China, where coal transport costs are highest, partly due to port congestion, he said.


Despite the massive expansion, nuclear energy's share will only rise to 4 percent of China's generation capacity by 2020, from about 2.3 percent now.

"Under this plan, the proportion of nuclear energy in China's energy mix doesn't change much, but the big question is where will they get the additional uranium?" said infrastructure consultant Michael Komesaroff of Urandaline Investments.

Two units of the Tianwan plant are due to be completed in April and December, bringing China's installed nuclear power capacity to 10,350 megawatts (MW).

Work began late last year on a 1,000 MW unit of the Lingao plant, in Guangdong Province, with another two 650-MW units due to start construction at the Qinshan plant in March.

Three foreign companies are still vying for $8 billion in contracts to build four reactors at the Sanmen and Yangjiang plants that will incorporate new technologies.

China will likely compare the performance of foreign-built reactors with a Chinese model, slated to begin construction in 2012, before finalising which version to emphasize from that point forward, said Paul Felten, a senior vice president at Areva, a partner in one of the bidding consortia.

"It's such a large market, we can't allow it to be controlled by foreigners. We need to promote our own Chinese designs, especially after 2012," CNNC's Shen said.

China's late expansion of its nuclear program brought an added advantage, by delaying the day it would have to deal with radioactive waste, Shen said. The nation is studying a plan for deep waste storage in its deserts, probably in Gansu.

Story by Lucy Hornby


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