France - Plutonium Investigationn°19

Scraps from the manufacture of MOX

   In 1999, about 8% of MELOX’ production consisted of scraps, at least a part of which is sent to La Hague. However, the MOX production plant has a recovery workshop for scraps allowing "recycling" by re-dissolving the defective pellets (MIMAS process, Micronized Master-blend). It is interesting to note that the other MOX production plant in France, Cadarache, with a declared capacity of 35 tHM/year (completely surpassed in 1999 with a production of 45.6 tons of oxides, or 40.2 tHM), also has a rejection rate of about 8%. A plant of the CEA, operated since 1991 by COGEMA, the ATPu has been almost entirely devoted since that year to contracts made with German utilities. In fact, as of 31 December 1999, according to the utility PreussenElektra, 262.6 tons of heavy metal were still to be delivered to German companies (1), or 300 tons of oxide, which corresponds to about seven years of production at a rate of 40 tons of heavy metal (or 45 tons of oxide) per year.

   Since the beginning, production of plutonium fuel in France has had its share of incidents. Particularly notable is the one classified level 2 on the INES scale, which occurred 28 July 1997, and which concerned the exceeding of the authorized mass of fissile material in a storage cell of the Laboratory for the experimental study and manufacture of advanced nuclear fuels (LEFCA), following a failure of the system for managing fissile materials. In fact, 170 grams of plutonium were found after analysis, in a batch supposed to contain only natural uranium. One should note that the mission of LEFCA is to manipulate plutonium in order to find applications for it in nuclear reactors, and that since 1996, the laboratory has undertaken the recovery and the reconditioning of nuclear materials from manufacturing residues. If it is possible to lose track of tens of grams of plutonium in a laboratory handling only small quantities of fuel, what about the MELOX manufacturing lines, which in 1999 handled 115 tons of MOX (0.6 tons more than in 1998), or close to 8.2 tons (up by 1.6 tons) of plutonium? The average content of plutonium in MOX is increasing, for, since February 1999, EDF is authorized to load MOX with 7.08% of plutonium compared to 5.3% before.

(1) Plutonium Workshop, Jan.13-14, 2000. Julich, Germany

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