Overseas uranium mining to be stepped up

Updated: 2012-11-13 08:06

By Ding Qingfen and Du Juan (China Daily)

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China National Nuclear Corp will speed up overseas uranium mining exploration, focusing on Australia, Africa and Central Asia, to meet the energy company's growing demand for the raw material, its chairman said on Monday.

"We have no worries about uranium resource reserves, as we will enhance efforts on exploring the resources both at home and abroad," said Sun Qin, chairman of China National Nuclear Corp, a State-owned energy company which runs more than 40 percent of China's nuclear sites.

He said the eurozone debt crisis has given Chinese companies such as CNNC a good opportunity to expand their overseas mining operations.

"We will step up uranium mining projects in foreign countries," he said. "The target overseas markets include Australia, Africa and Central Asia."

The Ministry of Land and Resources said on Nov 4 that a large leaching sandstone-type uranium deposit had been discovered in northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

Considered one of the world's top uranium mines, it is the country's largest leaching sandstone-type uranium deposit so far, which is of great significance for boosting domestic uranium supplies and ensuring sufficient resources to develop the nuclear power industry, the ministry said.

"We expect that the domestic market will satisfy half of our demand, with the other half coming from overseas," especially through purchasing uranium resources abroad, Sun said. China imported 16,126 metric tons of uranium in 2011, down 6 percent from the previous year, according to the General Administration of Customs.

Around 95 percent of China's uranium imports are from Kazakhstan, Namibia, Australia and Uzbekistan.

"The discovery in Inner Mongolia will help China to reduce its dependence on foreign supplies," said Yan Weidong, deputy director of the management and development division of the ministry's information center.

An executive meeting of the State Council on Oct 24 approved two programs, the national plan for nuclear power security (2011-20) and the nuclear power development plan (2011-20).

According to these programs, China is expected to have 40 million kilowatts of installed nuclear capacity by 2015, which would consume at least 7,500 tons of natural uranium annually.

Inland plants

"China is expected to start building inland nuclear power plants during the 13th Five-Year-Plan (2016-20) at the earliest, and is conducting research and risk evaluation on the construction of the inland nuclear power plants," said Sun.

According to its national nuclear plan, China will resume the construction of new nuclear power plants, which has been suspended since the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March 2011.

A small number of the plants that will be launched by 2015 will all be located in coastal areas.

"Technology is not an obstacle to the development of China's inland nuclear power plants," he said. "We just lack experience.

"Developing the nuclear industry is a priority" and China will continue to increase its investment in the nuclear industry, said Sun.

He added that all new nuclear reactors must comply with the highest international safety standards and China will resume construction of nuclear power plants "in a steady and orderly way" and "at a reasonable pace".

China's nuclear power generating capacity currently accounts for just 1.8 percent of the country's total electricity generation, much lower than the average figure of 14 percent for countries with nuclear power, according to a government white paper on energy.

Coal plays a major part in China's energy sector. It accounts for 70 percent of the energy consumption mix and 80 percent of its electricity production.

Contact the writers at dingqingfen@chinadaily.com.cn and dujuan@chinadaily.com.cn