China’s 2006 agreement for Australian companies to supply uranium to China, has finally borne some fruit. (And see Forbes). Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), which is controlled by Rio Tinto and which produces 10% of the world’s uranium, agreed to make a one-off shipment in the fourth quarter to an unidentified Chinese electricity company. The uranium will come from the Ranger mine. Australia holds 40% of the world’s known uranium reserves (Forbes).
Ranger is Australia’s most productive uranium mine, producing 5256 tonnes in 2006-07. It is located in the Northern Territory. Politically, it is a slightly controversial mine, due to its location near a World Heritage site and some concerns regarding its safety record.
Other Uranium Sources
China domestically mines for uranium, but it also acquires it abroad from Kazakhstan . Other countries listed as sources include Namibia. It is important to note that although as I detail in China’s Nuclear Power, China believes it may have a fair amount of uranium, as of 2007 its “proven uranium reserves within China, even if it was possible to fully extract them, could only fuel 40 GW for 50-60 years, according to China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co., the country’s second-largest nuclear builder by assets,” according to Dow Jones. And that dearth of power could by necessity make China an international player on the uranium markets since China wants to have 60 GW of capacity by 2020.
Kazakhstan – As of October 2007, “China will get a stake in a 2,000-ton-a-year uranium mine in Kazakhstan in exchange for its share in a uranium-processing business… Kazatomprom said on Oct. 12 it signed agreements in Beijing with the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and the China National Nuclear Corporation, China’s largest producers of atomic energy”, according to the NYT quoting a Bloomberg article. Kazakhstan currently has an agreement to ship nearly half of China’s uranium imports. (Kazakhstan holds 17% of known global uranium reserves). Kazatomprom is the world’s second largest uranium supplier as of 2007, accounting for 12% of global supply.
Niger – China also explores for uranium for its nuclear power plants in Niger. In what is perhaps too much wishful thinking, ” Niger hopes to become the world’s number two uranium producer by 2011 thanks to new mines being opened by France’s Areva and the China Nuclear International Uranium Corp. (Sino-U)” (Reuters). In production capacity, Niger is currently behind Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
Tajikistan – Only accessible by Subscription, the Times of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan) , quoted “China’s company eyes uranium deposits in Tajikistan” in Google News which claimed that “China’s Guangdong Corporation is interested in participation in development of uranium deposits in Tajikistan.” So it appears that talks have begun for uranium development in that Central Asian country. More news stories on this will hopefully develop.
Mongolia -There have been some talks (May 2007) http://www.mongolia-web.com/content/view/1044/2/ about China acquiring Mongolian uranium. Future agreements appear to be in the developmental stage. Mongolia may attempt to play China and Russia against each other for better deals. Russia appears to currently have the upper-hand in current prospective deal-making. “In April 2008 Russia and Mongolia signed a high-level agreement to cooperate in identifying and developing Mongolia’s uranium resources” (World Nuclear).
* More on China’s Nuclear Power industry in my article, “China’s Nuclear Power.”
* An interesting article on the Kazakh Uranium Industry. (I’m a little concerned about some of the numbers used in the article, but haven’t had time to double-check [it would take hours]. They seem okay, and the article IS on CNN, but if something seems out of place, it’s probably worth further investigation.)
* CFR also had a good report on the world’s Uranium Industry.
* Factsheets on Uranium from Cameco (slightly outdated in some places, but nice.)
In February 2008, construction began on the Ningde Nuclear Reactor in Fujian province. According to China Daily, the reactor should cost around $7.1 billion to construct and will open for generation in 2012. Yearly, it will generate 33 billion kWh of power (3.3 GW). Ningde is just one of China’s nearly 30 reactors planned to be constructed between 2008 and 2020.
China is embracing nuclear energy. However, China’s nuclear industry is still nascent. Compared to France’s 59 operational reactors, and Japan and the United States’ 55 and 104, respectively, China only has “11 nuclear reactors currently in operation” and six under construction as of June 2008. These reactors “last year generated 62.86 billion kWh [6.2 GW], up more than 14 percent on 2006… [N]uclear power still accounts for less than 2 percent of the country’s total output… [But China] wants to boost this figure to 4 percent by 2020,” according to China Daily. By 2010, China plans to have 12 GW online. As of 2008, China can generate 9 GW a year.
China’s planned amount of nuclear power as a percentage of their energy mix (4 percent) amounts to an insignificant amount compared to nuclear’s predominance in the United States. In the US, nuclear power accounts for “20 percent [of power]… and nearly 80 percent in France,” according to the Washington Post.
It does not appear nuclear energy will become a significant source of energy insecurity should future geopolitical problems arise between China and foreign countries. Coal remains the main ingredient in China’s energy mix.
In 2020, the Chinese hope to have nuclear power capacity of 60 GW. Also according to China Daily, China “will need to start construction on about 4 new generators a year through 2015 to meet its ambitious target.”
WILL CHINA MEET ITS TARGET OF ADDING NEARLY 50 GIGAWATTS OF NUCLEAR POWER IN 12 YEARS?
China needs to satisfy a few strategic areas before they can have a strong, functioning nuclear industry.
Uranium Acquisition– China purchases uranium from Kazakhstan and signed an agreement with Australia (2006). Imports of uranium account for 700-800 tons of the 1,600 it consumes yearly. Its uranium needs should expand to 4,000 yearly tons in 2010 (according to Bloomberg) and then 8,000 tons a year by 2020, according to AFP.
According to China Daily, more domestic exploration will be undergone. “Key areas that would be scoured for natural uranium include the Yili Basin in” Xinjiang and parts of Inner Mongolia. NTI has a chart of existing Chinese uranium mines and supplies. “China has [at least] an estimated 57,000 tons of uranium in the [already explored] south.” In 1995, the OECD estimated China’s readily-extractable uranium supplies at 65,000 tons, according to NTI. A 2007 Bloomberg news report estimates China’s domestic supplies at 300,000 tons, but that’s probably optimistic even though Chinese geologists are discovering new sources, mostly located in China’s border provinces. The location of these uranium deposits means that the Chinese government will have an even greater desire to increase border and internal security in these provinces.
IAEA data on country-by-country estimated recoverable uranium reserves are available HERE. China is estimated to only possess 1% of the world’s available reserves. Australia (24%) and Kazakhstan (17%) account for the lion’s share.
To reduce China’s reliance on uranium imports, it has established a strategic reserve for uranium. The reserve should be completed by 2010. According to the IHT, “China is building storage tanks in Zhenhai, Zhousan and Qingdao and in the northern city of Dalian.”
Enrichment Expertise– China has been aggressive in pursuing nuclear energy independence. In May 2008, Russia and China signed an agreement for a $1 billion investment in the completion of a gaseous centrifuge enrichment plant. The completion of the agreement, by 2010, should bring the Russian constructed capacity of Chinese Uranium enrichment plants to an ability to process over 1,600,000 SWU (Separative Work Units) per year. Compared to other countries’ capacities for enrichment in 2003; China’s amount will still be low. Russia, for example, can enrich over 25,000,000 SWU a year. The US can enrich 11,300,000 a year, and Japan can enrich 1,150,000 SWU a year.
Equipment– China has several indigenous nuclear power equipment plants being constructed. The most recent was built from June 2007-June 2008 in Shandong province. The plant produces steel containment vessels, according to a Hong Kong Ta Kung Pao article. Its “annual output volume is able to meet the demand of two sets of generating units in the AP1000 [type] nuclear power plant. ”
Reactor Designs– China is attempting to develop its own reactor design, so it will not have to transfer technology from abroad. According to the Washington Post, “Groundbreaking for an experimental $416 million Chinese plant is scheduled for 2009.”
Operational Expertise– China “is relying heavily on Western contractors such as Westinghouse to teach its engineers to build and operate plants,” according to the Washington Post. In December 2006, US-based but Japanese Toshiba-owned Westinghouse signed an agreement to build four new 3rd generation plants in China.
Waste Disposal- China plans to deposit its nuclear waste in the Beishan Mountains in Gansu province near Dunhuang, according to the Washington Post and The Asia Times. The repository will not be opened until 2050. Before China can begin transporting spent fuel to its interior, it will need to upgrade rail lines and security.
Conclusion– China’s nuclear industry faces a number of challenges in becoming self-sufficient and self-sustaining. It will also likely not be a major player in the country’s total energy supply until after 2020, since it will account for so little of China’s total energy supply (Around 4% of the mix).
Beijing will probably need to confront Uranium supply dearths more aggressively, whether by beginning massive domestic extraction investments (with all the environmental destruction and populace dislocation that may involve) or increasingly seeking investments abroad in places that can supply said Uranium, such as by going back into Niger and more aggressively exploring resources in Australia.
Currently, China lacks the technical expertise to completely self-develop their nuclear energy program, as Xinhua admits. However, after 2020, when China’s capacity is expanded, Chinese indigenous reactor designs, expertise and operators may become players on the world market and the Chinese could be exporting their expertise elsewhere in the world.
Chinese Nuclear Reactors
The above map suggests more nuclear reactors are soon planned for the north of China; however, by examining actual work orders, all power plants planned to be built before 2015 are in China’s south.
After 2015, one reactor should be operational in Shandong, with several others under construction.
Chinese Nuclear Power Companies (Partial List)
China Guodian Corp. (also produces other types of energy)
Chinese Nuclear Reactors (Partial List)
* Ningde Nuclear Reactor in Fujian (construction begins– Feb 2008; planned open– 2012)
* Sanmen Nuclear Reactor in Zhejiang (construction begins– 2007; planned open– 2011)
* Daya Bay (2) in Guangdong (~2 GW) (1994)
* Yangjiang in Guangdong (Planned)
* Tianwang (2) in Jiangsu (~2 GW) (2007)
* The World Nuclear Association has a more technical indepth report on the Chinese Nuclear Industry.