China’s National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is fast tracking its uranium mining exploration in Australia, Africa and Central Asia in a bid to meet growing demand for the element. In the wake of the European debt crisis, the state-owned energy company says it has good opportunities to expand its foreign mining operations.
“We have no worries about uranium resource reserves as we will enhance efforts on exploring the resources both at home and abroad,” says CNNC chairman Sun Qin.
A new discovery of a large leaching sandstone-type uranium deposit in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region was announced in November last year, significantly boosting domestic uranium supplies for the development of the nuclear power industry.
This new deposit is expected to reduce China’s dependence on foreign supplies to resource the State Council’s National Plan for Nuclear Power Security (2011-2020) and Nuclear Power Development Plan (2011-2020). According to these programs, China is expected to have 40 million kilowatts of installed nuclear capacity by 2015, which would consume at least 7500 tonnes of natural uranium annually.
The plans will see the construction of new nuclear power plants re-commence after the Fukushima disaster in Japan forced a suspension.
“China is expected to start building inland nuclear power plants during the 13th Five-Year-Plan (2016-20) at the earliest, and is conducting research and risk evaluation on the construction of the inland nuclear power plants,” says Sun Qin.
China imported 16,126 tonnes of uranium in 2011, down 6% from the previous year, with about 95% of its uranium imports from Kazakhstan, Namibia, Australia and Uzbekistan.
In November last year, China became one of the first countries in the world to launch an experimental fast neutron reactor, which passed official checks by the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE).
The CIAE says the fast neutron reactor can make better use of nuclear energy by increasing the utilization rate of uranium to 60%, from the 1% utilization rate of a traditional pressurized water reactor. “This in turn can minimize the radioactive discharge and raise security levels of the nuclear energy system,” says CIAE president Wan Gang.
“As an advanced and large sci-tech research and development platform, the experimental fast reactor will boost technological progress in the field and contribute to sustainable development of nuclear power in both China and the world,” he says.