Did you know that China occasionally exports enrichment services?
I didn’t. But, sure enough, they do from time to time.
Apparently China used to export enrichment services to the United States, but those exports stopped in 2007. They began again last year. Here is a chart created from data released by the Energy Information Administration in 2010 and 2012.
|Purchases of enrichment services by owners and operators of U.S. civilian nuclear power reactors by origin country and year, 2007-2011|
|Thousand separative work units (SWU)|
|Country of Enrichment Service (SWU-origin)||2005||2006||2007||2008||2009||2010||2011|
|Average Price (US$ per SWU)||-||106.57||114.58||121.33||130.78||136.14||136.12|
The “W” is for “withheld”– “W = Data withheld to avoid disclosure of individual company data.”
As it turns out, however, the data is recoverable. The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials requires that states party make ”prior arrangements …specifying time, place and procedures for transferring transport responsibility.” In the United States, that means a declaration to the NRC, which looks like this.
If that is the whole shipment, then that should work out to something like 580 tons of Seperative Work Units (SWU) — a surprisingly large order. (Someone should check my math! I am notoriously unreliable when it comes to arithmetic. And I used the handy new URENCO SWU Ap on my iPhone. So ….)
There are two interesting things about this import.
First, the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corp (CNEIC) needs to get better at packaging UF6 for transport. The NRC’s ADAM database contains a number of documents detailing the violations that occurred with the shipments. (Recommended search string: CNEIC UF6 Westinghouse) Generally speaking, the problems related to the valves, although some of the cylinders were not properly marked.
Second, URENCO and other enrichers have to be terrified that this is a sign of things to come. Although much of the uranium trade is based on long-term contracts (rather than spot sales), over time China might very well muscle into this business with the indigenous centrifuge plant it has constructed at Lanzhou. I wouldn’t be surprised to see words like “dumping” get thrown around in the next decade or so.