China: Weighing Spent Fuel Storage Options

Copyright © 2023 Energy Intelligence Group All rights reserved. Unauthorized access or electronic forwarding, even for internal use, is prohibited.

China’s growing spent nuclear fuel (SNF) inventories are raising concerns about storage capacity plans that depend in part on completion of a French-supplied commercial reprocessing plant that would bring with it substantial additional SNF storage capacity. Uncertainty over that project coupled with near-term storage needs is driving an expansion of dry storage capacities at reactor sites, and a shift of emphasis toward new SNF wet storage capacity at the Jinta reprocessing complex in western China, according to a recent report by China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC). Most of China’s spent fuel -- 5,671 tons of heavy metal (tHM) at the end of 2019 and an estimated 7,800 tHM at the end of 2020 -- is kept in wet storage at reactor sites. As some pools get filled, fuel is transferred to other sites. Increasingly, however, both CNNC and China General Nuclear (CGN) are building on-site dry storage capacity to address more immediate needs, or sending fuel to CNNC's Jiuquan nuclear complex (Plant 404) in Gansu province where substantial new capacity has been added. The Jiuquan complex is home to a 50 tHM per year pilot civilian reprocessing plant and not far from the Jinta site where a new SNF pool is planned alongside at least two new 200 tHM/yr reprocessing plants (NIW Mar.26'21). However, even with these expansions China risks falling short of capacity around 2030 unless plans for a French-supplied 800 tHM/yr reprocessing plant are concluded in time for the first of two planned 3,000 tHM SNF pools to be built at that plant's site, which has not yet been selected. The CNNC report, written by a researcher of the firm’s Strategy Planning & Research Institute, estimates that China’s SNF inventory will reach 3,200 tHM, 7,450 tHM and almost 14,000 tHM in 2025, 2030 and 2035, respectively. By 2050 the report estimates China will have accumulated a total 58,800 tHM of SNF inventory. But achieving enough capacity to store this fuel depends on the completion of several expansion projects, both at reactor sites and at the reprocessing plants. However, even if all this is achieved the CNNC report warns that the industry will run out of space in 2035, with an initial gap of 2,400 tHM in spent fuel. But without the first pool at the Orano-supplied plant completed in time that shortage will emerge in 2030. Coping Without a French Plant? CGN appears to be most acutely challenged by the spent fuel situation at its long-running Daya Bay nuclear plant in Guangdong. It's been sending SNF from the plant to the Jiuquan complex since 2003 and used up the facility’s first phase SNF pool (500 tHM) in 2013, after which it began sending the fuel to its nearby Ling'ao project. Now it's building 150 tHM of on-site dry storage capacity at the plant. Similarly, CNNC is building a 500 tHM dry storage facility for its Tianwan nuclear plant in Jiangsu, which ran out of wet storage capacity in 2016. It recently began construction of a 510 tHM dry storage facility at its Qinshan plant in Zhejiang, which is scheduled to come on line around 2025, according to the report. Beyond that two new centralized SNF storage pools are in the works or already operating. At Plant 404, CNNC is operating a 800 tHM pool built to supplement the already-filled first 500 tHM pool. The CNNC report also confirmed that at Jinta a 1,200 tHM SNF pool is scheduled to be put in use around 2025, likely ahead of the start of reprocessing. This is similar to what happened in Jiuquan, where the first wet pool was put to use in the early 2000s, years ahead of the reprocessing plant starting operations around 2010. But the big question is what China does if, as is increasingly expected, Orano and CNNC are unable to successfully conclude negotiations over the planned large-scale commercial reprocessing plant. Uncertainty over these negotiations, which have been ongoing for at least a decade with little recent progress, is further complicated by the lack of a project site. If a suitable location were identified, the report noted, then construction of a larger SNF pool could begin in advance of the reprocessing plant. But if the project is delayed by another five years, with the first SNF pool coming on line around 2035, the CNNC report estimates that a shortage of SNF storage capacity will emerge in 2030. The lack of clarity over these negotiations is effectively serving as a bottleneck to China's back-end strategy planning. Notably, China’s recent 14th Five-Year Plan prioritized construction of a reprocessing plant, which some industry sources interpreted as meaning that Beijing would push forward with the French negotiations (NIW Mar.19'21). However, the plan was in fact most likely referring to the “demonstration” project at Jinta as a critical nuclear industry project between now and 2025. The plan gave no hint of a government intent on pursuing negotiations with Orano. In the long run, the CNNC report concluded that China's SNF storage strategy will revolve around the combination of large-scale centralized SNF facilities and indigenously developed dry storage facilities at nuclear power plants. C.F. Yu, Beijing Interim SNF Storage Facilities in China Reprocessing

Utilities, Nuclear Policy
Wanda Ad #2 (article footer)
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vows to follow suit if Iran develops nuclear weapons; environmental greenlight for first Polish nuclear plant; Whitehall opens Sizewell C to private investment.
Fri, Sep 22, 2023
The government will push agencies to factor climate implications into procurement, budgeting and other decisions.
Fri, Sep 22, 2023
The US supermajor will take a 78% stake in the Aces Delta project, citing "changed" circumstances since it declined the option to participate last year.
Tue, Sep 12, 2023