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China’s nuclear ambitions get a boost from Russia, but is energy the only goal?

  • Moscow is feeding Beijing’s growing appetite for highly enriched uranium, but observers say those supplies could be used for nuclear weapons
  • China will replace the US to become the world’s top uranium buyer by 2030, experts say

Liu Zhen, 13 May, 2023, SCMP,

China is importing highly enriched uranium from Russia to produce energy, but observers caution that Beijing also plans to expand its nuclear arsenal. Photo: Shutterstock

The confirmation came last week when Russia said it had agreed to supply highly enriched uranium-235 to energy-hungry China over the next three years.

The announcement backed up reports that the shipments of nuclear fuel – enriched up to 30 per cent – were part of a deal to supply a demonstration fast-neutron power plant, a technology that could help China ease its shortage of nuclear fuel.

…….. with the enriched uranium fuelling a demonstration project for the new technology, China could improve its output of nuclear fuel and go some way to overcoming itst supply problem.

The final product would be plutonium 239, an artificial element that is primarily used in nuclear warheads – and that worries the West.

Although never officially admitted, Beijing is believed to be expanding the country’s nuclear arsenal, in line with President Xi Jinping’s pledge at last October’s 20th Communist Party congress to “strengthen strategic deterrence” as military tensions with the United States and its allies rise.

The US Department of Defence (DOD) has estimated China will increase from 400 warheads today to 1,500 by 2035.

……………………………………………………… With its two 600 megawatt power generators, the CFR-600 is not particularly large and is only considered a “demonstration project”. By comparison, the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant near Hong Kong, which has been operating since the 1990s, has two 944 megawatts generators.

In March, US DOD official John Plumb described the China-Russia cooperation deal as “very troubling”, but China’s foreign ministry has defended the arrangement as “perfectly normal and we do not see anything wrong about it”.

………………………… Fast-neutron reactors are an advanced fourth-generation nuclear power plant technology, which function to generate power, multiply nuclear fuel, and incinerate long-lived radionuclides, according to Xue Xiaogang, head of the China Institute of Atomic Energy Science.

……………………………………………. Russia has for decades been a leader in fast-neutron reactor technology, and last year its Beloyarsk BN-800 reactor began running completely on reprocessed spent fuel known as MOX.

But China’s imports of 30 per cent concentrated uranium-235 fuel for the Xiapu CFR-600 meant it was still at an earlier stage of technological development with many obstacles to overcome, said the researcher.


May 16, 2023 - Posted by | China, Uranium

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