The Back-End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: An Innovative Storage Concept

Appendix IV: The Increasing Role of China

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Stephen M. Goldberg, Robert Rosner, and James P. Malone
Global Nuclear Future

China is rapidly increasing its national nuclear infrastructure to offset the rising demand for energy. This investment is one aspect of China’s expanding energy portfolio as the state shifts away from its most abundant resource: coal. China’s primary objectives include energy independence and security; to achieve these goals, the state intends to close its fuel cycle and increase its utilization of fossil fuels as well as renewable sources. From a health and environmental perspective, China must transition from coal to other cleaner sources of power. Presently, China is exploring for new oil fields, but as more fields are discovered and exploited, older fields are producing less.89 The search for alternative energy sources is causing territory disputes in the South China Sea with Vietnam, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Taiwan.90 In 2001, to insulate the state from external oil market disruptions, China created a strategic oil reserve program.91

The Chinese nuclear industry transformed in tandem with the economy: in the case of the economy, from insular to market based; and in the nuclear industry, from military to civilian. Prior to 2005, China was focused on the military applications of nuclear technologies. Motivated by the need for cleaner base-load power, the new national energy strategy includes indigenous designs for reactors. Previously, China relied on nuclear technologies from the United States, Russia, and France92; currently, China is building twenty-seven new reactors. The models under construction are mainly of the Westinghouse AP1000 and the AREVA EPR models as well as two Chinese designs: CPR1000 and CPN1000.93

The three state-owned companies leading China’s nuclear renaissance are the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company (CGNPC), and China Power Investment Corporation (CPIC). The State Nuclear Power Technology Company (SNPTC) is working closely with Westinghouse, but does not yet have licenses to build or operate in China.

CNNC dominates the industry with its monopoly on nuclear-project construction companies and ownership of fuel cycle facilities. China does not have enough domestic uranium to support its growing consumption; the government uses the fact that the indigenous supply is limited to justify its pursuit of a closed fuel cycle.94 The projected volumes of used fuel resulting from their increased capacity will exceed the cooling and storage facilities available (see Table 3).95 In anticipation of the imminent overflow, China is strategizing the future of its fuel cycle. A recent study estimates that China will have enough storage space for the coming decades96; however, in order to have proposals passed and infrastructure built to meet its storage needs, many years of advance planning are necessary. “China intends to model its fuel cycle on France, India, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom,” according to Gu Zhongmao of the China Institute for Atomic Energy (CIAE). That is, China will pursue a closed fuel cycle. Unlike some other states, China has few environmental groups to oppose conventional reprocessing and, as a nuclear weapon state under the NPT, is relatively immune to complaints about proliferation. The new site chosen to pursue back-end processing will include a used fuel pool to help accommodate additional waste in the near term.97

Table 3. The Current Status of Used Fuel Storage at PWRs in China

Date of First
Connection to the Grid
Spent fuel storage
On-site fuel
storage capacity
Year when storage
capacity is expected to fill up
Qinshan   12/15/1991 Dense-pack wet
Pool size expansion
35 years 2025
Daya Bay Unit 1
Unit 2
Wet storage 10 years 2003
Qinshan Phase II Unit 1
Unit 2
Wet storage
20  years 2022
LingAo Unit 1
Unit 2
Wet storage
20 years 2022
Qinshan Phase III Unit 1
Unit 2
On-site wet/dry
40 years 2042
Tianwan Unit 1
Unit 2
Wet storage 20 years* 2026

*Newly planned reactor designs include a twentyyear onsite spent fuel storage capacity. Source: Yun Zhou, “China’s Spent Nuclear Fuel Management: Current Practices and Future Strategies,” Energy Policy 39 (7) (July 2011): 4360–4369. Reprinted with permission from Elsevier,

China is also negotiating with AREVA over the construction of an 800 MT/yr COEX (coextraction) facility to be located at Jiuquan. In November 2007, France and China signed a memorandum of understanding “to undertake feasibility studies related to the construction of a spent fuel reprocessing-recycling plant in China.”98 In November 2010, AREVA and CNNC signed an industrial agreement on cooperation in the field of used fuel treatment and recycling. AREVA described that agreement as the final step toward a commercial contract.


As discussed above, China is not currently under heavy pressure to treat used fuel. China has sufficient room at most of its reactors to store fuel for several years. Only one site, Daya Bay, has limited storage capacity and must ship its used fuel to the site in Gansu, which it has done since 2004. Even this is an artificial “crisis”: CNNC successfully pressured the Chinese government to deny the operators of Daya Bay a license to rerack their used fuel, forcing the operators to contract with CNNC for transport, storage, and other back-end services.99

China remains in need of more energy. There is no nascent environmental movement that might dissuade Chinese policy-makers from closing the fuel cycle.100 As a nuclear weapon state, China faces few international barriers on nonproliferation grounds. With regard to China’s pursuit of conventional reprocessing or more advanced chemical partitioning, the major barrier appears to be China’s need for foreign technology and the high cost of purchasing a commercial-scale plant.


89. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Country Analysis Briefs: China,” November 2010,

90. Ibid.

91. Ibid.

92. Yun Zhou, Christhian Rengifo, Chen Peipei, and Jonathan Hinze, “Is China Ready for its Nuclear Expansion?” Energy Policy 39 (2011): 771–781.

93. The two models are based on Framatome’s 900MW three-loop design. See World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in China.”

94. Yun Zhou, “China’s Spent Nuclear Fuel Management: Current Practices and Future Strategies,” Energy Policy 39 (7) (July 2011): 4360–4369.

95. Ibid.

96. Ibid.

97. Ibid.

98. AREVA, “China: AREVA and CGNPC Sign the Biggest Contract Ever in the History of Nuclear Power and Enter into a LongTerm Commitment,” November 26, 2007,

99. CSIS NTI Workshop, July 2011.

100. To the extent that some people in China are environmentally conscious, they tend to be urban elites more concerned about air pollution in China’s major cities.