China and France are likely to discuss greater cooperation in the field of spent nuclear fuel reprocessing during Premier Li Keqiang’s visit, according to experts.
“China and France have a long history of cooperation in the nuclear industry, including advanced nuclear technologies, the construction of power plants and scientific exchanges,” said Xu Yuming, deputy director of the China Nuclear Energy Association.
“But I think we will see more cooperation in used fuel recycling because China is building more nuclear power plants and will have more used reactor fuel to be reprocessed.”
According to earlier reports, a joint statement on civil nuclear cooperation will be signed during the visit.
China launched its first nuclear power projects in the late 1980s, and since then it has been developing a strategy for reprocessing used reactor fuel to extract fissile materials for recycling and reduce the volume of waste.
There are currently 23 nuclear reactors in operation, and new plants are going online every year. According to the mid-to-long-term nuclear development plan, the country aims to have 58 gigawatts of installed nuclear capacity by 2020.
By that time, about 1,500 metric tons of used reactor fuel will be generated every year and about 10,000 metric tons of spent fuel will have built up, experts say.
Liu Yong, director of the South western Institute of Physics, a research organization under China National Nuclear Corp, one of the country’s largest operators, said there is a huge demand for spent fuel recycling in China, but the country needs to improve its expertise in this area.
Liu said China and France will seek to extend their cooperation over nuclear energy to third-party markets such as the United Kingdom and other European countries.
“From this point of view, the cooperation between the two countries will go beyond bilateral relations. But it will take time to explore the third-party nuclear market because of the different regulations and safety standards that apply, and the cooperation with the French companies will help to accelerate that process,” he said.
In the UK, China National Nuclear Corp and China General Nuclear are investing in Hinkley Point C, a nuclear plant project led by France’s EDF Energy. As part of the agreement, EDF will subsequently help the two Chinese companies to invest in another nuclear power plant in the UK that will use Chinese technology.
Nuclear energy cooperation between China and France dates back to the establishment of the Daya Bay plant in the early 1990s in Guangdong province.