France's nuclear program can be said to have really
started when the G1 reactor at Marcoule came into service in 1956. Although
it was connected to the national grid, its true purpose was the production
of plutonium for the needs of the country's nuclear arms program. Plutonium
was separated at the UP1 reprocessing plant (UP stands for "usine de
plutonium" or plutonium factory) at Marcoule, before being used as raw
material for nuclear warheads.
In the next 20 years, the CEA (France's Atomic Energy
Commission) developed a powerful nuclear industry of which one of the
objectives remained the production of plutonium, not only for bombs
but also for a new generation of fast-breeder reactors of the Superphénix
type. These so-called "fast neutron" reactors would, in the course of
their service life, produce even more plutonium than they consumed.
Plutonium was considered to be an inexhaustible energy resource.
Today everything has changed, and Superphénix has
been shut down permanently due to lack of economic interest and numerous
technical problems. EDF assigns a value of zero to its plutonium stocks
in its accounts and the price of natural uranium has fallen spectacularly
over the last 20 years, rather than increasing.
Curiously, "reprocessing" continues at La Hague
(France) as though nothing had changed. This study does not consider
the economic, environmental or strategic implications of France's nuclear
policy. The report simply draws up a balance of the production of irradiated
fuels, of plutonium separation and of the use of the uranium and plutonium
separated during fuel processing.
What is the status of the "doctrine" of plutonium
and uranium "recycling" today?
Some key figures
(rounded, as of 31.12.98)
I. Production and separation of plutonium
1. A total of around 30,000 tonnes of irradiated fuel have
from nuclear reactors in France.
2. A total of 17,000 tonnes of irradiated fuelattributed
to France have been
reprocessed at Marcoule and La Hague.
3. A total of more than 84 tonnes of plutonium(38 % of
total contained in
unloaded irradiated fuels) have been extracted
at Marcoule and La Hague
4. In all, French irradiated fuels still storedin the
spent fuel pits of civil
reactors or at La Hague amount to almost 140
tonnes of plutonium
(62 % of total content of unloaded irradiated
5. A total of around 1 tonne of plutoniumis contained
6. A total of 1 kg of plutonium has been released into the
during reprocessing at La Hague.
II. "Recycling" of plutonium
1. Around 17 tonnes of plutoniumhave been used under France's
2. Around 23 tonnes of plutoniumhave been used in the
form of MOX
fuel in conventional reactors.
3. Around 2 tonnes of plutoniumfrom EDF reactors have
within France's nuclear armsprogram.
III. Separation and "recycling" of uranium
1. A total of around 16,600 tonnes of uraniumhave been
duringreprocessing of French irradiated
2. A total of around 1,600 tonnesof uranium from reprocessing
been enriched and re-used.
The stock of French plutonium,
more than 40 tonnes at the end of 1998 (2), is more
than the total of 33 tonnes produced by the UP2-800 reprocessing plant
at La Hague since its start up in 1994. In other words, a plant was
brought into service - at very high cost - to extract a product that
was put on the shelves.
Recycling of the nuclear material
contained in France's spent fuels is clearly no more than a myth.
full report (in French) can be downloaded as PDF file (23 p., 266
1. A few thousandths of a gram of plutonium
inhaled is sufficient to cause lung cancer
2. To which should be added some 35 tonnes
of plutonium of foreign origin stored in France at present