France - Plutonium Investigationn°19

The "reprocessing-recycling" option is a clearly uneconomic choice

   The current lobbying is fierce. It cannot be in the interest of EDF to continue the reprocessing and use of MOX, two very costly activities, at a time when this nationalized company must, for the first time, face the tough competition of other European utilities. It now seems difficult to lower the price of the kWh by 30%, as announced by EDF’s CEO, and to prolong a particularly costly industrial activity for the sole purpose of maintaining employment at COGEMA. Clearly, the government is being called upon here in its role as arbiter. Much on this subject was expected of the mission that Lionel Jospin assigned to three personalities, to re-evaluate the cost of the nuclear kWh and of the end of the fuel chain in particular.

   The conclusion to the Charpin-Dessus-Pellat mission report is clear: Reprocessing and use of the plutonium extracted is considerably more expensive and causes additional problems when compared with temporary then final storage of non-reprocessed irradiated uranium fuels:

   "In conclusion, it can be estimated that pursuing the French strategy of reprocessing-recycling, if fully implemented in the existing nuclear power plants (28 units using MOX) and under optimum operating conditions at La Hague (regarding its workload) would provide, over the life of the currently operating nuclear reactors, considered in isolation, and in relation to stopping of reprocessing in 2010:

- a saving in natural uranium of around 15%;
- a reduction in the quantities of plutonium and americium to be stored of around 12 to 15%, depending on the life of the currently operating nuclear power plants..

   These reductions would be possible at a total additional cost of 1% (28 to 39 billion Francs) and an extension of storage time for some waste: irradiated MOX, in particular, would have to be stored until 2150-2200 before going into final storage."

   The verdict is clear and leaves no room for appeal: "In other words, from the point of view of the electricity company, this strategy represents an increase in the cost of kWh, which is a barrier to competitiveness, something that is increasingly difficult to bear in a market opening up to competition."

   And the balance is even less favorable for a less optimistic life span than the 45 years used above, if La Hague dose not operate as planned and if the additional costs of "reprocessing-recycling" from the start of the strategy until 2010 are included. The cost is then estimated at 164 billion Francs — 6% of the total.

   In an internal note, EDF says, "this is the first time we have seen such an advanced study on the economics of the fuel cycle in a public document" and that the results are "in line with current EDF thinking", especially that "the reprocessing/recycling option reveals to be extremely expensive".

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