If successful, a repository that could store 100 years’ worth of high-level waste will be built, reports in China said. The waste will mostly be in the form of spent nuclear fuel, which is currently stored in spent fuel ponds at nuclear plant sites.
Reports said construction will begin next year and will finish by 2024. Work has begun on supporting infrastructure such as paved roads.
“We are doing research into this project and it will soon be put into practice,” said Liu Hua, head of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, during a press conference on Tuesday.
Wang Ju, vice-president of the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology, told the China Daily newspaper that the new laboratory will be sited in granite 560m below ground in the Beishan region of Gansu province, in China’s remote northwest.
The site was chosen because it presents ideal conditions to prevent leaks: there is no seismic activity nearby and the bedrock the lab will be housed in is made of granite, which reduces the risk of groundwater seepage or fractures, according to a paper published in The Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering last year.
The offices and laboratories on the surface will have a floor area of 2.4 hectares within a 247-hectare site. The underground complex will require the excavation of 514,200 cubic metres, along with 13.4km of tunnels.
The laboratory which was listed as a major scientific project in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), will take seven years to build. If research proves successful, a long-term underground repository for high-level waste will be built nearby by 2050.
In the country’s latest five-year plan – which set out China’s economic and development goals for the five years from 2021 – Beijing said it aims to have 70 GW of installed nuclear capacity by 2025 from about 50 GW at the end of 2019. That would equate to about 20 new reactors, 2021-2025, although China already has 12 under construction.
China failed to meet its nuclear energy targets under the previous five-year plan covering 2016 to 2020. It had suspended approvals for new nuclear power stations in 2011 after the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
China already has 50 nuclear reactors in commercial operation, the third highest number behind the US (94) and France (56). In 2019, nuclear energy accounted for 4.9% of the country’s electricity production share, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.