China develops own tech to enrich uranium

By Zhang Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2013-6-25 0:03:01

China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has announced that it has finally been able to successfully produce enriched uranium for industrial purposes using domestically made technology.

The first batch of the independently produced fuel, made in a facility in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, on Friday, can be used in nuclear power stations nationwide after further processing. The move, widely seen as a great step in the country's nuclear industry, helps industrialize the process of enriching uranium.

"After years of research, China has finally achieved this goal. China has become one of the few countries that own independent uranium enrichment technology and use it for industry. It is a milestone," said Lei Zengguang, chief engineer of CNNC on Monday.

Uranium enrichment technology is critical to a country's nuclear industry, as raw natural uranium contains only 0.7 percent of uranium-235, with the remaining 99.3 percent being uranium-238. Most of China's nuclear power stations need enriched uranium, containing 2 to 5 percent of uranium-235, reported China Central Television (CCTV) Saturday.

"The Lanzhou plant uses self-designed gas centrifuge machines to separate uranium-235 and -238," Lei said, adding that gas centrifuges consume less power compared with other enrichment means, halving the general costs.

"Among all the means of uranium enrichment, gas centrifuges are the most mature. They have already been used in countries such as Russia and the UK," an unnamed nuclear professor with Tsinghua University told the Global Times Monday. "It's a key technology for any country to produce nuclear fuel. That symbolizes the nuclear industrialization level of a country," he said.

"These gas centrifuge machines will be responsible for supplying fuel to all 17 nuclear power stations under operation in China. It can even meet the entire demand by 2020, when the requirement will be five times more than it is now," Zhu Ji, manager of the Lanzhou uranium enrichment plant, was quoted by CNNC's website as saying.

"Independent uranium enrichment is essential for China's nuclear industry. It will definitely help China to complete its nuclear production chain with low costs," the professor told the Global Times Monday.

The Lanzhou plant welcomed its first ever visit by reporters on Friday.

"Citing confidentiality, I cannot provide you with more details on those gas centrifuges," an unnamed employee with CNNC told the Global Times on Monday, adding that the Lanzhou facility was founded in 1958 and had never been open to the public.

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