A study considers three nuclear expansion scenarios to estimate China’s future uranium demand. The first scenario is the reference case and is based on China’s current long-term nuclear power development plan, which anticipates that nuclear power will have a 20-percent share (the current world nuclear share) of the total national installed capacity by 2050. The second scenario is a high-growth scenario, which anticipates continuous nuclear expansion and a 30-percent nuclear share of installed capacity by 2050. The third scenario is the low-growth scenario, which anticipates a 10-percent nuclear share by 2050.
China has justified its decision to reprocess its spent nuclear fuel on the grounds that it needs to create a secure source of fuel for nuclear power generation, it’s worth examining how China’s access to uranium resources is expected to match up with demand in the coming decades.
These scenarios all assume that nuclear growth will take the form of additional 1 GWe pressurized water reactors (PWR) and that Generation IV reactors will be developed to the point that they are commercially deployable by 2040. The study assumes that the nuclear portion of the installed generating capacity will be 150 GWe, 300 GWe, and 450 GWe for the three different growth scenarios, respectively. These projections are comparable to those in China’s 863 Energy Plan.
Existing and planned PWRs achieve a burn-up rate of about 50 GWd/t, with a capacity factor of 85 percent. The newly designed Gen III PWRs are assumed to achieve a 65-GWd/t burn-up rate, while existing PWRs from before are
assumed to operate with a 50 GWd/t burn-up rate
The annual MOX fuel load for the CEFR is 0.5 ton and the annual MOX fuel load for one CDFR is 7.5 tons, based on an 850-MWe power level, a 100-GWd/t burn-up rate, a 33-percent thermal efficiency, and an 80-percent capacity factor. The cost of MOX fuel fabrication is $1,950 per kgHM, while the cost of traditional LEU fuel is $1,640 per kgU, assuming a natural uranium price of $100 per kilogram.
Nuclear fuel costs are only about 5 percent of the total generating costs of a reactor, while fuel costs for coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants make up to 40 percent and 60 percent of costs. The availability of nuclear fuel is unlikely to constrain future nuclear expansions, in China or elsewhere.
China could still look to progress to closing the fuel cycle to ensure lower dependence on imported materials for energy.
It is possible to close the nuclear fuel cycle using fast neutron reactors and the INPRO method.
The fuel fabrication for the CNFC-FR system should be based on the mixed powder route. Mixed oxide could be made by co-processing and co-precipitation and this mixed oxide product may be suitably diluted by adding UO2 powder to make the fuel for multiple compositions of FR core. Since U–Pu separation is not envisaged, several process steps are eliminated resulting in a reduced number of process equipment, tankage and operations leading to significant reduction in the processing cost.
The advanced reprocessing operation of the reference plant involves recovery of unused and bred fissile materials as well as recovery of minor actinides (MAs) and selected high heat producing or long-lived fission products (LLFP) in a form suitable for immediate recycling in the reactor or co-located transmutation systems. It is assumed that advanced aqueous processes can be used for the tentative burn-up of 200 GWd/t and a 360 days cooling period of the discharged fuel.
Used fuel will be reprocessed using electrometallurgical processes (so-called pyro-processing) and plutonium will not be separated but will remain with some highly radioactive isotopes. Pyroprocessing is also said to have several advantages for fast reactors which greatly simplify waste management.
It may be mentioned that in the aqueous route of reprocessing, extremely high separation factors (also called decontamination factors) of 107 and high recovery rates over 99.8 % are routinely achieved. For the reference CNFC-FR system the stipulated Pu recoveries are 99.95 % or more.
Recently, several new extractants have been reported. To achieve actinide-free status for high
level waste, recovery levels of MA are assumed to be 99.9 %.
The overall conclusion of the INPRO economic assessment is that a nuclear energy system consisting of a series of fast reactors incorporating improvements to be developed within the next 10 to 20 years will meet INPRO’s economic basic principle, i.e. the nuclear energy system CNFC-FR will be affordable and available in 10 to 20 years in the countries mastering this technology.
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Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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