The Cost of Reprocessing in China
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CitationBunn, Matthew G., Hui Zhang and Li Kang. 2016. The Cost of Reprocessing in China: Project on Managing the Atom. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School.
AbstractAs it expands its fleet of nuclear power plants, China faces an important decision: whether to make large capital investments in facilities to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and recycle the resulting plutonium in fast-neutron reactors, or continue to store nuclear fuel, leaving for the future decisions on whether to reprocess the fuel or dispose of it as waste. This report summarizes estimates of the cost of current proposals for building and operating reprocessing plants and fast reactors in China.
China has been considering both a reprocessing plant designed to reprocess 200 metric tons of heavy metal in spent fuel each year (200 tHM/yr) and one designed to process 800 tHM/yr. Both indigenous Chinese technology and purchase of a large reprocessing plant from France are being considered. At the same time, China is considering construction of a demonstration fast reactor and a commercial fast reactor. There, too, both indigenous Chinese technology and a purchase from abroad (in this case from Russia) have been considered. The background of China’s program and the facilities being considered are described in Chapters 1 and 2.
Using engineering extrapolations from China’s existing 50 tHM/yr pilot plant, Chinese experts estimate that the cost of a 200 tHM/yr reprocessing plant using indigenous Chinese technology might be in the range of $3.2 billion (2014 $). By the same method, the cost of an 800 tHM/yr plant would be over $9 billion. These estimates are described in Chapter 3.
Because of the uncertainties of extrapolating from the pilot plant experience, it is worth examining international experience as well. The costs of the French and British reprocessing plants, built long ago, are comparable to the estimates based on extrapolating from the pilot plant. The more recent experiences with the Japanese reprocessing plant at Rokkasho (with a capital cost of over $20 billion, many times the original estimate) and the U.S. plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant (with a capital cost of over $7 billion, again many times the original estimate) suggest much higher costs. The €20 billion price Areva has reportedly offered for the proposed 800 tHM/yr plant suggests that they believe costs for a Chinese plant will be closer to the Japanese experience than to the old French experience. These estimates are discussed in Chapter 4.
Based on these estimates and this international experience, Table ES.1 shows high and low estimates for the cost of building and operating a 200 tHM/yr reprocessing plant and an 800 tHM/yr reprocessing plant. Even the low estimates range from four to seven times the cost of storing the same fuel for 40 years, amounting to savings ranging from over $9 billion to over $70 billion. Hence, if China chooses not to invest in large reprocessing plants over the next several decades, it would have billions of dollars in unspent funds available that could be used to build more nuclear power plants to provide additional clean electricity for China’s economy.
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