France - Plutonium Investigationn°19

Reprocessing: managing the end of the contracts

   The reprocessing of irradiated fuels at La Hague makes France the world’s largest producer of "civilian" plutonium, with 1,562 tons reprocessed in 1999 for a cumulative total on December 31, 1999 of 15,098 tons of light water reactor fuel, which represents around 130 tons of plutonium separated since the beginning of light water fuel processing in 1976.

   The distribution of reprocessed fuels among COGEMA’s customers continues its slow progress in favor of EDF, as the La Hague plants approach the completion of their foreign contracts. In 1999, the share of foreign fuels still amounted to 56% of the total light water fuel reprocessed in La Hague since the beginning of operation, and 46.5% of the total reprocessed that year (see the following table).

Status of contracts for reprocessing light water reactor fuels at La Hague
(in metric tons of heavy metal, as of 31 December 1999)


Quantities under
Total reprocessed
reprocessed during
the year 1999


8,156         6,645         848.5        


5,779 *         4,127         305        


603         592         0        


2,925         2,944         302        


390 *         226         0        


649         562         106.5        


18,399         15,098         1,562        

* includes so-called post-2000 contracts, or 1,024 tons for Germany (according to GNS, less than the figure given by some German utilities), 165 t. for the Netherlands.

© WISE-Paris Source:COGEMA, GNS

   However, the La Hague plant may see the end of its foreign fuels reprocessing in 2002 if there is no new contract to support the French plutonium industry. In fact, the reprocessing of foreign fuels could end in 2001 if Germany, as a result of the agreement to halt reprocessing, signed June 15, 2000, between the Government and the electricity companies, canceled part of its so-called "post-2000" contracts. At present, by themselves, they constitute the major part of the foreign activity of COGEMA as of 2001. A recent Australian contract changes nothing. It is for 1,300 research reactor fuel assemblies (MTR, Material Testing Reactor), but it involves only 3.8 tons, a negligible quantity compared to the 1,600 tons per year processed on average each year for the last five years. Information about possible supplementary contracts with Japanese utilities is still to be confirmed, and in any case, they involve only a quantity of about 600 tons spread out over several years. Nor does EDF itself foresee any increase in the amounts reprocessed after 2001 when its present contract ends.

   The request by COGEMA to increase the capacity of the UP2-800 and UP3 plants to 1,000 tons/year, without, however, increasing the authorized cumulative throughput of 1,700 tons/year, which was up for public inquiry earlier in 2000 (see hereunder), seems all the more strange in view of the limited existing and potential further contracts. In reality, COGEMA is preparing for the closing of one of its plants at La Hague. It is banking on the hypothesis that EDF will be obligated by the Government to maintain reprocessing at the level of some 850 tons/year. The 150 tons of supplementary capacity per plant would allow it to meet the few foreign contracts remaining for a few more years.

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