two secret nuclear reactors worry scientists

In the midst of the energy transition, China is setting its sights on nuclear energy. Of the many reactor projects, two are of particular interest to some scientists. These “breeder reactors” do indeed generate plutonium, the same compound that is placed in nuclear warheads!

Civil Plutonium Reactors

China has started an energy transition and is very interested in nuclear energy. Not less than So 19 reactors are under construction and 115 others are planned or under study in this country. China has also announced the construction of a pilot plant that should eventually make it possible to secure its factory necessities and uranium by extracting seawater. This country is therefore increasing the resources to make nuclear energy the spearhead of the energy transition.

In a May 25, 2021 article, Popular Mechanics called for the construction of two nuclear reactors on Changbiao Island, Fujian Province (southeast). These reactors, called China Fast Reactor 600 (CFR-600), should be operational in 2023 and 2026. However, its installation worries many observers.

China Rapid Reactor 600

This type of “breeder reactor” or rather sodium-cooled fast reactor (FNR-Na) would consume more uranium than the other existing solutions. With a capacity of 600 MWe (electric megawatts), these reactors are fed with MOX, a mixture of oxides produced when processing spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants consisting of 92% uranium and 8% plutonium. The problem is that these CFR-600s would release large amounts of plutonium. However, this part is better known for its integration of nuclear weapons production.

A hidden military target?

According to a report by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), published in 2021, these two reactors could enable China to have nearly 1,300 nuclear warheads by 2030. NPEC estimates that China’s civilian nuclear program partly much more opaque than that of the United States, European countries, Japan or even South Korea. In addition, Beijing has not reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 2017.

The authors of the report are therefore concerned about the capabilities of these so-called civilian reactors. Given the potential contribution to the formation of a significant stock of plutonium, suspicions about a military target take on their full meaning. Finally, the analysts recalled that United States intelligence agencies accuse China of having nuclear arms race. Indeed, the goal would be to double its nuclear arsenal in the near future.