Chinese nuclear plant 
Beijing, China — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 26 November 2010 – Officials with China’s leading nuclear companies say the country’s supply of uranium will fuel its burgeoning fleet of reactors for decades to come, but imports will continue to increase with a new 2020 target of 70 gigawatts of nuclear capacity “’ up from 11 gigawatts at the end of last year.

Despite these claims, experts have suggested that a fuel supply bottleneck could slow the pace of construction. Chinese industry officials have been talking down the problem, and insist the country already has sufficient uranium to meet its needs, even though it chooses to hedge its bets by investing heavily in overseas mines.

“China is relatively rich in uranium reserves and can completely satisfy the needs of Chinese nuclear energy development for 2020,” said Zhao Chenkun, vice-chairman of the China Nuclear Energy Association.

The companies behind the ambitious nuclear expansion also expressed confidence in domestic supplies. “Our basic strategy is we will rely on our own supply of uranium to a very large extent,” Cao Shudong, director of planning and development at China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), told a conference here.

He said exploration activity within China had fallen into a lull two decades ago, but drilling had since been stepped up and CNNC had found new mines in the far northwestern regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.

Some experts disagreed with the rosy assessment of domestic uranium supplies. “China’s own domestic uranium resources are, to be frank, not fantastic,” said Steve Kidd, director of strategy and development at the World Nuclear Association.“I think they recognise that although they can get domestic production up from where it is today, they are going to have to import,” he told Reuters.

“It takes around a decade to explore and develop a uranium deposit, and China is doing its utmost to avoid potential bottlenecks by signing import deals and building up stockpiles,” CAMECO vice-president Ken Seitz told Reuters.

“It’s true there’s a lot of uranium in China but it all relates to production costs and the price of uranium,” he said. “With a growth programme that could take China to 80 GW by 2020, that gives them a uranium demand of something like 40 million lb a year “’ that requires a very large inventory."