Friday, August 12, 2016

Exploring China's Decision to Pursue and Now Postpone Nuclear Reprocessing and MOX Fuel

China is pursuing reprocessing and MOX fuel production in cooperation with France's Areva corporation, but the process has met serious public opposition:
David Stanway. August 10, 2016. China halts work on $15 billion nuclear waste project after protests

A Chinese city has suspended preliminary work on a proposed 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) nuclear waste processing plant following protests by local residents concerned about health risks.\

Reports that Lianyungang - a coastal city about 500 km (310 miles) north of Shanghai - was set to be chosen as the site for the project sparked protests that began at the weekend.

The project, to be run by the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) in collaboration with France's Areva, is due to start construction in 2020 and scheduled to be completed by 2030.

"The Lianyungang Municipal People's Government has decided to suspend site selection and preliminary work on the nuclear recycling project," the local government said in a notice posted on its website (

According to the article, the plant would not be built by Areva, but rather by CNNC. It would be modeled after Areva's reprocessing plant in La Hague and a MOX fuel plant in Melox, southern France. MOX is composed of enriched uranium and plutonium fuel. It burns hotter than exclusively uranium based fuel.

The La Hague plant extracts plutonium from spent uranium burned in EFF's French plants while Melox blends the plutonium with uranium to make MOX for pressurised water nuclear reactors.

The hope is for the Chinese plant to be able to process 800 tonnes per year in comparison to the 2,700 tonne capacity at La Hague.

The reasons driving re-processing and use of MOX fuel defy rationality and public opposition is very high. No one wants a plant linked to nuclear reprocessing in their neighborhood, and for very good reasons.

Reprocessing fuel is very dirty and dangerous work that could cause catastrophic accidents. Facilities are prone to terrible leakages that create unmitigated environmental risk. Yet, reprocessing efforts and the MOX project march on globally.

Japan has also pursued MOX fuel and just re-started a reactor that operates on MOX this week:
Ikata nuclear plant restarts amid concerns of local residents THE ASAHI SHIMBUN August 12, 2016 at 18:10

MATSUYAMA--Shikoku Electric Power Co. restarted the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture on Aug. 12, joining only two others operating in Japan under stricter safety regulations mandated after the Fukushima accident.

The Ikata reactor became the third online in addition to the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan….

Among the three reactors in operation, the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata plant is the only reactor that uses mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel consisting of plutonium, extracted from spent nuclear fuel, and uranium to generate electricity.

The plant was reactivated for the first time in five years and three months since it suspended operations in April 2011 for a regular inspection.

Japan's reprocessing facilities - at Tokai and Rakkosho have been linked to national security, defined within the lexicon of nuclear deterrence.

Its possible that China's decision to pursue reprocessing and MOX stemmed from concern about Japan's infrastructure for a "bomb in the basement," which is about to be greatly enhanced by the Rokkasho reprocessing facilities.

Here is an article from NBC news describing China's fears about Japan's potential bomb in the basement:

Robert Windrem. 2014.  Japan Has Nuclear 'Bomb in the Basement,' and China Isn't Happy. NBC News,

...government officials and proliferation experts say Japan is happy to let neighbors like China and North Korea believe it is part of the nuclear club, because it has a “bomb in the basement” -– the material and the means to produce nuclear weapons within six months, according to some estimates. And with tensions rising in the region, China’s belief in the “bomb in the basement” is strong enough that it has demanded Japan get rid of its massive stockpile of plutonium and drop plans to open a new breeder reactor this fall.
The argument that Japan has a "bomb in the basement" is supported by the pervasive culture of secrecy permeating Japan's decision-making regarding reprocessing facilities at Rokkasho, as evidenced by the secret nuclear policy meetings that occurred in 2012, as described here by the Asahi Shimbun:
Asahi: Panel backs nuclear fuel reprocessing after talks with industry officials. May 24 2012. The Asahi Shimbun,

A Japan Atomic Energy Commission panel revised its draft policy evaluations to favor nuclear fuel recycling after closed-door consultations with pro-nuclear officials from the industry, sources said...
A senior official of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which operates a spent fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, called for plant operations to continue, the sources said..."
Some very prominent authorities questioned this decision to pursue reprocessing, particularly at Rokkasho, as illustrated in the editorial below by Masafumi Takubo, a nuclear policy analyst, and Frank Von Hippel, a Princeton professor of public and international affairs:
Japan’s Nuclear Mistake By FRANK N. VON HIPPEL and MASAFUMI TAKUBO November 28, 2012
Some of the ecological and economic risks associated with MOX fuel are described here, in the context of the Fukushima disaster:
Kozo, M. & Polimeni, J. M. (2012, Jan). Uranium reserve, nuclear fuel cycle delusion, CO2 emissions from the sea, and electricity supply: Reflections after the fuel meltdown of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Units. Ecological Economics, 73, 1-6.

Abstract: The Great Tohoku–Kanto earthquake and the resulting tsunami have brought considerable attention to the issue of building new nuclear power plants. In this paper we argue that nuclear power is not a sustainable solution to energy problems. First, we explore the stock of uranium-235 and the different methods, fast breeder and MOX fuel reactors, developed by the nuclear power industry to exploit this resource. 
Second, we show that these fuel reactors are not feasible. 
Third, we show that the claim that nuclear energy can be used to reduce CO2 emissions is false: the emissions from the increased water evaporation from nuclear power generation must be accounted for. 
In the case of Japan, water from nuclear power plants is drained into the surrounding sea, raising the water temperature which has an adverse effect on the immediate ecosystem, as well as increasing CO2 emissions from increased water evaporation from the sea...
China's decision to pursue reprocessing and MOX fuel makes more sense when understood in the context of Japan's decisions about reprocessing nuclear fuel.

Nuclear energy is directly linked to Hobbesian views of state security because it provides the infrastructure for producing endless atomic weapons.

Even the most dangerous nuclear technologies will likely be pursued when they are seen as directly facilitating the power of nuclear "deterrence."

After rising to nuclear supremacy, the US stressed non-proliferation of  nuclear weapons among other nations, as described in Foreign Affairs and the US:
Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press. The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy. March/April 2006.The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy. Foreign Affairs,
Non-proliferation is a noble goal, but it can also be subverted.

Non-proliferation only works in a global context of mutual TRUST and mutual disarmament. We are, unfortunately, far from that context. So nations pursue risky "civilian" nuclear energy projects to promote their national security.

Thankfully, public opinion generally understands that nuclear projects are inherently risky and threaten their children and children's children.


  1. Why do people in Lianyungang protest the nuclear waste plant and Americans roll over for nuclear power and reprocessing plants near where they live?

    The people in Lianyungang actively speak of Fukushima, while protesting the Chinese officials wanting to bring dangerous nuclear waste and a nuclear waste processing faculty to their city. Americans simply roll over.

    Americans have rolled over on the westlate nuclear waste dump by st Louis even though there are alarming respiratory ailments and cancer rates there. Americans are rolling over about building a nuclear waste processing facility in s. Carolina.
    Tim Kaine, the VP choice of HC is very pro nuclear. 4 npps in his state. Virginia is not so far from Washington DC.  Tim Kaine wants to start Uranium mining in Virginia. Like Hillary, he probably has conflicts of interest with some uranium holdings.  Kaine is very pro building of a Nuclear Fuel Processing facility in S Carolina. 
    Ho can The Chinese be so aware of Fukushima and the dangers of Nuclear Power, Nuclear Processing, Nuclear Waste, while Americans are so ignorant and unconcerned of the monumental catastrophic dangers?

    Trump is very pro-nuclear power. trump says the more nucs the better. more so than other candidates. Clinton is Next. She wants more nuclear power . Wants 20% of energy to be nuclear.

    Johnson is a hippocrit. He says that due to the liability of nuclear power, in this instance the government should step in and underwrite it. Not very free market there.

    Stein IS SOLIDLY antinuclear. she talks about dirty and dangerous it is.

    How is it that People in China, South Korea, and Taiwan are actively protesting  nuclear power-nuclear waste because the dangers, and after Fukushima while Americans are complacently allowing their country to be further poisoned?

  2. Maija, thanks for this - it is all very necessary information. Thanks for putting it together. Two points: i) The Asahi article of 24 May 2012 says JNF is "operating" a reprocessing facility, but to my knowledge they are not doing so as they have still to get the license to operate - I think they have still not successfully carried out the vitrification tests. However, they eventually will do so and get their license to operate, though I have a feeling that the plant will run similarly to the Tokai plant and also to Monju, both of which have totally failed to operate as originally planned. Then the 2nd point is why the Japanese also roll over and fail to protest anything, like in the US, while the Chinese (quite rightly) protest the construction of a reprocessing facility in their backyard. The anti-nuke protests after 3/11 2011 fizzled out in the summer of 2012. Unless something *very* serious happens in Japan, the nuclear agenda is now beyond protest. The Thais have a famous phrase "mai ben rai" ("never mind"); the Japanese have "sho ga nai", which means "nothing you can do about it". That's where the anti-nuke movement is in Japan now.

    1. Thanks for the clarification on Rokkasho's status. I wasn't sure whether any operations were active yet.

      I am sad to hear that the anti-nuke movement is mai ben rai. Very depressing.