China announces newfound ability to reprocess spent nuclear fuel
China announced a nuclear power breakthrough Monday that could solve its uranium supply problem. A technique to reprocess spent nuclear fuel that is kept secret in other countries has been mastered by Chinese nuclear scientists. The Beijing government said its new technology could extend China’s supply of nuclear fuel from 70 to 3,000 years.
China’s nuclear power breakthrough
China’s nuclear power generating capacity could increase tenfold in 10 years if its government’s claims about reprocessing spent uranium are true. The ability to reprocess spent nuclear fuel recovers previously unused uranium and plutonium and reduces nuclear waste. The U.S., a few European countries, China and Japan reprocess nuclear fuel, but the technology is a closely-guarded industrial secret. How China’s nuclear reprocessing technique is different from existing methods isn’t known. But according to China Central Television, a kilo of uranium could produce up to 60 times more energy than is currently possible in China.
China aims to lead world in nuclear power
China is turning to nuclear power as its energy demand surges and pollution reaches critical levels. It passed the U.S. as the largest energy consumer in the world in 2009. Coal power plants currently supply 70 percent of the country’s power. The Beijing government plans to supply 5 percent of China’s energy needs with nuclear power by 2020. By 2030, experts predict that China could pass the U.S. as the world leader in atomic energy production. Currently China has 13 nuclear reactors. The U.S. has 104 reactors in use now.
Meeting China’s voracious energy demand
China, which in 2010 passed Japan as the second-largest economy in the world, needs a huge supply of energy to keep that economy growing. The country is about to embark on the most ambitious program of nuclear reactor construction in history. Twenty-six nuclear reactors are currently under construction and hundreds more are planned. After years of re-engineering nuclear technology from foreign suppliers, China has started designing its own reactors with aims to sell its own nuclear technology overseas.