China started building Beishan Underground Research Laboratory

Chinese Atomic Energy Agency (CAEA) has announced that construction of the Beishan Underground Research Laboratory has begun near the city of Jiuquan in the Chinese province of Gansu. The Gobi desert will hosts the laboratory in a granite massif 560 meters. The aim is to perform the necessary tests and trials of the suitability of the rock mass for long-term storage of highly radioactive waste.

On June 17, 2021, the ceremonial start of the construction of the underground laboratory took place. The Beishan Underground Research Laboratory is one of 100 major scientific projects listed in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan 2016-2020. The project is managed by the Beijing Geological Institute of the Nuclear Industry.

Technical solution of Beishan Underground Research Laboratory

The Beishan underground laboratory is to be the largest underground laboratory in the world. It should represent the most complex functions and the widest participation. An important scientific research platform for the construction of a deep geological repository will be provided. Highly radioactive waste is to be stored here. At the same time, the process of safe disposal of highly radioactive waste will ensure the sustainable development of the nuclear industry.

The area of the surface facility has an area of 247 hectares. Of this, 2.39 hectares are laboratory floor areas. The underground complex will have a total volume of 514,200 m3 and 13.4 km of storage tunnels.

Budget and schedule

It is estimated that the construction of the Beishan Underground Research Laboratory alone will cost over 2.72 billion CNY ($ 420 million / $ 9.8 billion). Construction is planned for seven years. The laboratory is designed to operate for 50 years. If the research work confirms the suitability of the site, then by 2050, a deep repository for highly active waste will be built.

Low and intermediate level waste

Disposal of low and intermediate level waste is carried out at three locations in China. It is: near Yumen, the northwestern province of Gansu; at the Beilong repository in Gunagdong Province near the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant; and in Feifengshan, Sichuan Province.


History of the Chinese back end fuel cycle program

  • The energy company China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is responsible for the entire fuel cycle.
  • In 1987 China announced a long-term closed fuel cycle strategy. That would gradually reduce the amount of spent fuel in storage.
  • Requirements for spent fuel management are based on the Radioactive Waste Management Regulations 2002 and the Radioactive Waste Management Safety Regulations 2011, together with other laws.
  • Since 2016, the spent nuclear fuel has been stored on site in 39 pools and in 1 dry temporary facility at Qinshan NPP.
  • China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and French AREVA have signed a contract to build an 800 t / year fuel reprocessing plant at a cost of $ 15.7 billion. It also includes the SNF warehouse in 2018.
  • CNNC continues to produce MOX fuel. In 2018, the Research Center for Nuclear Fuels and Materials was launched. But other institutes are also researching thorium and other uranium advanced fuels.
  • In 2018, 32 years after the on-site surveys began for the DGR. An underground research laboratory was approved in the Gansu Beishan region.
  • The construction of the DGR is planned to start in 2040. Waste disposal is planned to start in 2050.

Source: World Nuclear News and Petr Pavlíček/IAEA

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