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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Marcoule - Valrho

    BP 171
    30207 Bagnols sur Céze cedex
    33 4 66 79 60 00

Closure of the UP1 reprocessing plant at Marcoule, where weapons-grade plutonium is produced, was scheduled for the end of 1997 when reprocessing of spent fuel from gas-cooled reactors was completed. This followed the announcement by the French President in February 1996 that France had sufficient stockpiles of fissile materials to meet its future defence needs.

The situation at Marcoule is complex. Whereas the facilities producing plutonium were stopped several years ago, those which produce tritium continue in operation. The cleanup of the site requires the elimination of the stock of waste produced by the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. This operation will be long and expensive, requiring about twenty to thirty years, at a consolidated cost close to 30 billion francs. On this site, the ECA acts in collaboration with EDF and the COGEMA. But, whereas these two companies regularly pass from the provisions in their accounts in order to gradually face with the financial expenses of the cleansing, the ECA depends on its annual financing budgetary, which places it in a more vulnerable position.

The Phénix sodium cooled fast breeder [233 MWe net capacity], located in Marcoule, has been operated since 1974. Phénix successfully demonstrated the technical feasibility of the Fast Reactor System. On November 18, 1997, the American Nuclear Society awarded its 1997 Nuclear Historic Landmark to the Phenix French Fast Reactor Prototype. The French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) has spent about $100 million in recent years on measures to improve and ensure the safety of Phénix. On February 1st, 1998, an interministerial committee meeting of the French government chaired by Prime Minister Lionel Jospin decided to pull the plug on the Superphénix fast-breeder reactor plant, located in the French Alps at Creys-Malville. Phénix is now the only tool available to the CEA to carry out experiments in the transmutation of long-lived radionuclides as required by a 1991 law on research into radwaste management. The CEA now plans to operate it until 2004 in order to have research results available by 2006 - the year in which the law specifies that Parliament should make a definite decision on management technique for long-lived radwaste.

COGEMA mixed uranium / plutonium oxide fuel (MOX) fuel fabrication capabilities include the COGEMA-Cadarache facility and the Melox plant at Marcoule and Belgonucleaire plant at Dessel. The Melox plant, brought on line in 1995, represents the world's most efficient and modern MOX fabrication plant, truly bringing MOX fabrication to its industrial maturity. Its new and automated design enables the plant to produce assemblies at a rate well above one 500 kg assembly per day. Melox is scheduled to reach 160 tHM per year by 1998; ongoing adjustments will bring its capacity to more than 250 tHM/yr by the year 2000.

COGEMA has vitrified fission products at its Marcoule plant since 1978. Highly radioactive waste consists primarily of fission products (strontium, cesium, etc.) and transuranics (neptunium, americium, etc.) which have been formed during fuel residence in the reactor. The waste is incorporated into a glass mixture and the vitrified product is poured into stainless steel canisters, which are temporarily stored in air-cooled dry wells.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:39:53 ZULU