China builds uranium enrichment centrifuge

25 February 2013

The first domestically-produced centrifuge has been successfully installed at a uranium enrichment plant at the Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) announced. China has previously relied on Russian enrichment technology.

Lanzhou - centrifuges (CNNC)
Workers in the main control room of the Lanzhou enrichment plant (Image: CNNC)

CNNC said that, "after a long period of painstaking research" at Lanzhou in central Gansu province, it has successfully developed uranium enrichment centrifuges for commercial use.

The company said that the installation of the centrifuge marks a strategic accomplishment in terms of safeguarding the sustainable development of China's nuclear power industry. It noted that it "indicates that China has the independent chemical capacity to produce nuclear fuel and that it has fully grasped uranium enrichment centrifuge technology." The enrichment process increases the concentration of the fissionable uranium isotope (uranium-235) in order to produce nuclear reactor fuel.

Current production

In 2010, China needed 3600 tonnes of uranium and 2.5 million SWU of enrichment. By 2020, it expects to need 10,000 tonnes of uranium and 7 million SWU. The country has largely depended on Russian-supplied enrichment technology to meet its needs, with the remaining enriched uranium being imported.

The Lanzhou enrichment plant started in 1964 for military use and operated commercially between 1980 and 1997 using Soviet-era diffusion technology. A Russian centrifuge plant of 500,000 SWU* per year started operation there in 2001.

An enrichment plant using Russian centrifuges was also set up at Hanzhun in Shaanxi province under agreements between Russia and China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC). The first two modules at Hanzhun came into operation in 1997 and 2000, adding capacity for 500,000 SWU per year. Further capacity of 500,000 SWU per year at Hanzhun was commissioned in mid 2011.

* SWU, or Separative Work Unit, is the unit used to measure the energy required to separate uranium-235 from uranium-238.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News