Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and the Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC) have issued a joint press release announcing the signing of an agreement to work together to further develop nuclear power technologies focused on low uranium consumption. The heavy water moderated CANDU reactors are able to use slightly enriched uranium and consume less uranium per megawatt hour of power output than reactors that require higher levels of enrichment when the “tails assay” aspect of the fuel production is included.
The other big potential is that the final enrichment level of used fuel from light water reactors is actually higher than what is needed as the input fuel for advanced CANDU power plants. There is a proven, but not yet widely used fuel cycle called the DUPIC (Direct Use of PWR In CANDU) fuel cycle that can dramatically reduce the need for freshly mined uranium. Since uranium prices are about 9 times as high as they were just 8 years ago, the DUPIC cycle is looking more and more attractive, especially in uranium importing countries like China and South Korea that already own both Light Water Reactors and Heavy Water Reactors.
It would also be a great fuel cycle for North America where there are plenty of both types of reactors within a few hundred miles of each other. All we need to do is to figure out the cross border agreements required between Canada and the US.