China's current spent fuel management policy is the interim storage of spent fuel, either at or away from the reactors.
Since China is only beginning to develop a civil nuclear fuel cycle, it does not need to decide on the issue of spent fuel management until about 2005. However, China's three operating power reactors discharge about 60 metric tons heavy metal (MTHM)/year with an accumulated 300 MATH. It is estimated that with the addition of eight new reactors in the early 2000s that the discharge will be 168 MATH by 2005 with an accumulated inventory of 940 MATH. The CANDU and Qinshan reactors are expected to discharge 176 MTHM/year and will accumulate an inventory of 440 MATH by 2005.
The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is the operational authority, and is responsible for site selection, construction and operation of each region's repository. The State Bureau of Environmental Protection (SBEP) is the oversight authority for China's nuclear waste disposal. The Everclean Environmental Engineering Corporation, a subsidiary of CNNC, was founded to handle low and intermediate level solid radioactive waste disposal.
China divides radioactive waste into five categories:
(1) Waste gases and liquids
(2) Solid waste
(3) Tail ore and waste rock
(4) Waste generated during the decommissioning and decontamination of military nuclear facilities
(5) Waste from urban industries and institutes involved with radioactive materials
In October 1994, at the IAEA-sponsored "Conference on Practices and Issues in Developing China's Radioactive Waste Management," CNNC Assistant General Manager Li Dingfan announced China's policy of local disposal of low- to mid level solid wastes and deep layer, permanent burial of high level waste (HL). Due to the incremental nature of the policy, all relevant provinces and municipalities are to establish temporary radioactive waste storage facilities. In response to this, all nuclear facilities have their own storage and treatment units for radioactive waste. In total, there are now 21 storage facilities in China.
Location selection for a repository for high level waste involves four stages - national, regional, district, and site. District screening was started in 1989 focusing on the Beishan area in northwest China. The most promising districts are reported to be Quinhongquan and Jiujin in the southern part of the region. The overall plan also involves four stages:
(1) 1985 - 2025: Site selection and site characterization
(2) 2025 - 2029: Repository design
(3) 2024 - 2050: Repository construction
(4) 2051 - onwards: Repository operation
Four regional low level waste (LLW) and intermediate level waste (ILW) repositories exist or are planned. They will be located in the northwest, south, east and southwest portions of China. The Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex in Lanzhou, Gansu also stores nuclear waste. China's nuclear weapons test base at Lop Nur is also being considered as a site for radioactive waste storage.
Sources differ on the number of new spent fuel facilities currently under development. Some sources state that China is constructing three low-to-medium level storage pools for spent fuel: one in northwest China to be operational in 1997; one in the south to be completed in 1998; and one in the east to be completed in 2002. Another source states that China plans five regional LLW/HLW facilities.
Yet a third source states China plans three or four low- and intermediate level waste repositories to serve different regions, with the first to be located at the Lanzhou complex.
Spent Fuel Waste Storage/Management Facilities
(1) Gobi Desert
Planned reprocessing and storage facility to be completed by 1995. Already used for nuclear weapon related production and disposal. 20,000 sq km complex to include reprocessing and spent fuel storage facilities. Will store spent fuel that was previously stored at nuclear power plants. Will include a solidification plant and burial facilities for solid waste. China also announced plans for a larger treatment plant at the same location to be completed in 2000.
The Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex is located 25 km northeast of Lanzhou, Gansu Province and consists of a uranium conversion facility, gaseous diffusion plant and a pilot-scale reprocessing plant. It contains a center for the temporary storage of spent fuel pending reprocessing.
(3) Lop Nur
The Lop Nur Nuclear Weapons Test Base is located in Malan, Xinjiang Autonomous Region and is China's only nuclear weapons test site. Lop Nur is a likely site for interim high-level waste storage.
(4) East China Disposal Site EAST
[Reportedly in preselection phase.] The East China disposal site is planned to open in 2003 with an initial capacity of 80,000 cubic meters and a planned total capacity of 300,000 cubic meters.
(5) Northwest China Disposal Site
Urumqi.The Northwest China disposal site began accepting waste in 1999. It has an initial capacity of 60,000 cubic meters and a planned total capacity of 200,000 to 300,000 cubic meters.
(6) South China Disposal Site
Located five km east of the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station, Beilong District. Will dispose of low- and medium-level waste from the Daya Bay NPS. It was selected in 1993 and is expected to be operational in 2000. It will have an initial capacity 80,000 cubic meters planned total capacity of 300,000 cubic meters.
(7) Southwest China Disposal Site
A temporary storage site for nuclear waste that is capable of handling 1,000 barrels of nuclear waste annually was established in spring 2000 in Sichuan Province. A permanent southwest China disposal site is expected to be operational in 10-20 years and is reportedly in a preselection phase. At least three locations have be chosen as candidates for the site.