The first commercial trials demonstrating the use of recovered uranium fuel in a CANDU reactor have begun in China. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) said that the first bundle of Natural Uranium Equivalent (NUE) fuel was loaded into the pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) Qinshan 1 on 22 March.

Chinese government officials together with representatives from AECL and its Chinese partners Third Qinshan Nuclear Power Company (TQNPC), Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) and China North Nuclear Fuel Corporation (CNNFC) attended the event.

Over the next six months, a total of 24 NUE fuel bundles will be inserted into two separate fuel channels at the Qinshan 1 reactor in Haiyan, China. Irradiation of the NUE bundles, which are made by mixing uranium from spent LWR-fuel with depleted uranium from enrichment plant tails, will be completed in approximately 12 months.

“This commercial demonstration of NUE fuel is a first-of-a-kind advanced fuel collaborative effort for the parties and highlights the beginning of the engineering application of CANDU advanced fuel cycles,” said AECL president and chief executive officer, Hugh MacDiarmid.

“It establishes CANDU’s ability to utilise alternative fuel cycles and demonstrates the strong synergy between CANDU technology and light water reactor technology.”

The commercial demonstration of NUE fuel in the CANDU reactor is the final phase of a three-phase joint research project between AECL and its three Chinese partners, TQNPC, NPIC and CNNFC. The project began in 2008 to explore the use of recovered uranium from light water reactors in a CANDU reactor.

In December 2009, an expert panel comprised of representatives from China’s leading nuclear academic, government, industry and R&D organisations unanimously recommended that China considers building two new CANDU units to take advantage of the design’s unique capabilities in utilising alternative fuels.

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