France - Plutonium Investigation n°1


During 1996, 77% of the electricity produced in France was generated by nuclear power. Only one large utility, Electricité de France (EDF), produces most of the electrical energy generated in France (94% of the total French production). In 1996 EDF exported 69 TWh, mostly to Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. EDF is the largest electricity exporter in Europe. EDF currently operates 56 nuclear reactors of which a dozen are operated for export (!) Two more are planned to be put into service by the year 2000 (see map).

France was one of the first countries to develop a civil plutonium separation capacity, through reprocessing technology originally developed to produce plutonium for France's military programme. COGEMA operates today the largest commercial reprocessing plant in the World at La Hague in Normandy.The first industrial scale reprocessing plant - UP1 - was built in 1958 at Marcoule. The UP1 plant - UP is a French abbreviation for plutonium factory - has mainly reprocessed fuel from the first type of reactors developed in France, magnox reactors.

The CEA began the construction of the La Hague reprocessing plants in 1960. The first plant to be built at La Hague was the UP2 plant, which began reprocessing magnox fuel in 1966. UP2 ceased to reprocess this type of fuel in 1987, after a total of 4,894 tonnes* had been reprocessed. A complementary facility to reprocess spent fuel from light-water reactors (LWR)** began operating at La Hague in 1976. The first French pressurised-water reactors, which were to progressively replace the existing magnox reactors, were built from 1970 onwards. The first French pressurised-water reactor, Fessenheim 1, began operaton in 1977.

Another reprocessing plant, UP3, began operating at La Hague in 1990. This plant, with an 800 tonne per year capacity, was built for foreign clients: German, Japanese, Belgian, Swiss and Dutch utilities; the building and first decade operation of the plant was - in principle - completely prefinanced by these utilities on a cost-plus-fee basis.

The La Hague plants reprocess primarily foreign spent fuel. At the end of 1990, a total of 2,881 tonnes of spent LWR fuel had been reprocessed at La Hague, of which, 731 tonnes (only 25%) were from EDF. Nowadays, the French share of reprocessed spent fuel is larger. At the end of 1996, 10,087 tonnes of LWR spent fuel had been reprocessed, of which, almost 6,100 tonnes (60%) was of foreign origin.

*All tonnes mentionned in the bulletin are metric tonnes.
** Both Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs) and Boiling Water Reactors are LightWater Reactors (LWRs).

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