Jiuquan Atomic Energy Complex

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Last Updated: September 29, 2011
Other Name: 酒泉原子能联合企业; Jiuquan Integrated Atomic Energy Enterprise; Plant 404 (404厂); Yumen Reactor; Subei Reactor; 404 Company, Ltd. (四○四有限公司); Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex
Location: Near Yumenzhen, Jiuquan Prefecture, Gansu Province
Subordinate To: China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC)
Size: Large facility
Facility Status: Military facilities decommissioned; commercial facilities operational

The Jiuquan Atomic Energy Complex (JAEC) is a large site containing numerous nuclear facilities, most notably a plutonium production line used to create weapons-grade plutonium for China’s first thermonuclear explosion. It was established in 1958 and continued production for more than two decades before being largely decommissioned in 1984. [1] In the 1990s, along with the semi-privatization of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), a centralized wet storage facility and pilot-scale reprocessing plant were constructed on the site for civilian use. [2] With respect to the commercial facilities, the site is often referred to as the Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex, but the facilities are co-located with the decommissioned military plants. [3]

The site is the location for the following plants:

Plutonium Production Reactor

The Jiuquan plutonium production reactor was designed with assistance from the Soviet Union beginning in 1958, but soon after construction began in 1960 the USSR withdrew its assistance and materials. [4] The graphite-moderated, light water-cooled reactor achieved first criticality in October 1966. [5] The reactor reached its design power of approximately 250 MWth by the first half of 1975; thereafter, the power and performance of the reactor were increased significantly. [6] By the time it stopped production in 1984, the reactor may have produced an estimated 0.9 tons of weapon-grade plutonium. [7]

Plutonium Reprocessing Plant

The reprocessing plant at Jiuquan separated plutonium from spent nuclear fuel created in the Jiuquan reactor. The reprocessing technology designs were initially provided by the Soviet Union, but based on outdated technology. When the USSR withdrew its support, China proceeded indigenously using the PUREX separation process. [8] It consisted of two reprocessing lines: a pilot plant that operated from 1968 to 1970, and a main plant that operated from 1970 to 1984. [9] Together, they allowed China to separate an estimated 70kg of weapons-grade plutonium per year. [10]

Plutonium Processing Plant

After plutonium was created in the reactor and separated from spent nuclear fuel in the reprocessing plant, it was further refined and processed into plutonium metal for eventual use in weapons.

Uranium Hexafluoride Processing (Conversion) Plant

This plant converted uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which was then sent to one of the enrichment facilities. [11] It is currently operating as a uranium conversion plant for China’s civilian nuclear industry. [12] In 2005 a new plant was constructed in addition to these facilities, at the same location, believed to be a 3,000 ton per year uranium conversion plant. [13]

Nuclear Fuel Processing Plant

After being enriched, uranium hexafluoride (UF6) was converted to uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), and eventually to uranium metal. [14]

Nuclear Component Manufacturing Plant

This plant took the weapons-usable fissile materialsHEU and weapons-grade plutonium from the Nuclear Fuel Processing Plant and Plutonium Processing Plant, respectively – and fabricated them into shapes for bomb cores. [15] The final assembly of nuclear warheads took place at a connected Assembly Workshop.

Centralized Wet Storage Facility

As part of its plans to implement a closed nuclear fuel cycle, the Centralized Wet Storage Facility was constructed as a center for interim spent fuel storage pending reprocessing. Construction began in May 1994 and it was ready to accept spent nuclear fuel (SNF) by around 2000. The facility has a capacity of 550 tons of SNF, which can be expanded to 1,300 tons. [16] Spent fuel from the Guangdong Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station is shipped by road to the wet storage facility at a rate of two casks (104 spent fuel assemblies) per year, beginning in late 2003. [17]

Pilot-Scale Reprocessing Plant

The pilot-scale reprocessing plant was approved by the State Council in 1986 and originally expected to start operating by 2000, but technical and regulatory concerns delayed operation until December 2010, when operators finally completed successful hot tests of plutonium separation. [18] The pilot reprocessing plant uses the PUREX process and has the capacity to separate 60 tons of heavy metal per year. [19]

Sources:
[1] John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, China Builds the Bomb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988); and Mark Hibbs, “China Said to be Preparing for Decommissioning Defense Plants,” Nuclear Fuel, 17 May 1999, www.lexis-nexis.com.
[2] Mark Hibbs, “CNNC is Abolished in Move to Reform China’s Nuclear Sector,” Nucleonics Week, Vol. 39 No. 13, 26 March 1998, www.lexis-nexis.com; and Hui Zhang, “Rethinking Chinese Commercial Policy on Reprocessing,” Belfer Center, Harvard University, www.belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu.
[3] Jeffrey Lewis, “I Still Call it the JAEC,” Arms Control Wonk, 26 July 2011, http://armscontrolwonk.com.
[4] David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, “Chinese Military Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium Inventories,” ISIS, 30 June 2005, www.isis-online.org.
[5] David Wright and Lisbeth Gronlund, “Estimating China’s Production of Plutonium for Weapons,” Science and Global Security, 11:61–80, 2003.
[6] “Global Fissile Material Report 2010,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, www.fissilematerials.org.
[7] “Global Fissile Material Report 2010,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, www.fissilematerials.org.
[8] Robert Norris, Andrew S. Burrows and Richard Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Data Book, Volume 5 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994).
[9] David Wright and Lisbeth Gronlund, “Estimating China’s Production of Plutonium for Weapons,” Science and Global Security, 11:61–80, 2003; and “Global Fissile Material Report 2010,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, www.fissilematerials.org.
[10] “Global Fissile Material Report 2010,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, www.fissilematerials.org.
[11] John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, China Builds the Bomb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988); and “China: The Paths to Weapon-Grade Uranium and Plutonium,” The Risk Report, Vol. 1, No. 9, November 1995, www.wisconsinproject.org.
[12] “China’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” World Nuclear Association, Updated 28 July 2011, www.world-nuclear.org.
[13] “Jiuquan Atomic Energy Complex.” Google Earth. 18 July 2011; and “四○四总公司:三大战役决战决胜,” [404 Corporation: Three Battles Fought and Won,], 中国核工业集团公司, [China National Nuclear Corporation] 31 January 2007, www.cnnc.com.cn.
[14] Robert Norris, Andrew S. Burrows and Richard Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Data Book, Volume 5 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994).
[15] Robert Norris, Andrew S. Burrows and Richard Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Data Book, Volume 5 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994).
[16] Deng Guoqing, “Overview of Spent Fuel Management in China,” Presentation at IAEA International Conference on Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors, 3 June 2010.
[17] Mark Hibbs, “CNNC Moving Daya Bay Spent Fuel to Yumenzhen Separation Plant Site,” Nuclear Fuel, 6 June 2005, www.lexis-nexis.org.
[18] Yun Zhou, “China’s Spent Nuclear Fuel Management: Current Practices and Future Strategies,” Energy Policy, 39, 25 April 2011, p. 4363; and Gao Yanmei, “我国首座乏燃料后处理中试厂热试成功” [China’s First Pilot Spent Fuel Reprocessing Plant Hot Test Successful], China National Nuclear Corporation, China Nuclear 404 Co., Ltd., 22 December 2010, www.cnnc.com.cn; and Mark Hibbs, “China Peeps About Plutonium,” Arms Control Wonk, 11 January 2011, www.armscontrolwonk.com.
[19] Deng Guoqing, “Overview of Spent Fuel Management in China,” Presentation at IAEA International Conference on Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors, 3 June 2010.

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