China plans to set up a strategic reserve of natural uranium to ensure that the emphasis on nuclear power development is backed by a "stable and reliable" fuel supply.
The reserve will be built by "sparing no effort" in identifying and exploiting domestic uranium deposits, while seeking international collaboration at the same time, according to the latest national nuclear industry development plan for years up to 2010.
Slightly more than 1 percent of China's total electricity needs are met by nuclear power plants but this is set to surge to 4 percent by 2020, as the country seeks to reduce its reliance on coal-fired, polluting plants, according to official sources.
"Now that China is determined to substantially expand the share of nuclear power in energy consumption, we need to improve our production capacity and technology regarding the nuclear fuel cycle," an official with the China Atomic Energy Authority said yesterday.
A nuclear fuel cycle starts with the mining of uranium and ends with the disposal of nuclear waste with used fuel as an option for nuclear energy, according to the World Nuclear Association.
"Toward that end, we must step up prospecting and excavation of uranium ores, while conducting research on recycling of used fuel," the official, who preferred not to be named, told China Daily.
The official declined to specify the amount of uranium China needs to process to reach the anticipated nuclear power generation capacity of 40 gigawatts by 2020, or about five times the installed capacity in 2005.
But with the country planning to construct three nuclear power plants each year over the next 10 years, the production capacity of various processes of the nuclear fuel cycle will have to increase by four to six times by then, according to the plan.
Key areas that would be scoured for natural uranium include the Yili Basin in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in Northwest China and the Ordos Basin in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in North China, according to the national plan.
The official said the State reserve, plus a system of commercial stockpiles in enterprises, will take shape by 2010.
China will also seek natural uranium resources overseas, the plan says.
Over the past few years, China has imported uranium from countries such as Australia and Niger in Africa, said Han Xiaoping, executive vice-president of China5e.com, a top energy website in China.
The national plan also says the country will strive to push its research on nuclear science closer to advanced global levels. It will also step up handling of radioactive waste and phasing out old nuclear facilities to ensure the safety of workers and the environment.
Source: China Daily