France - Plutonium Investigationn°19


   France has entered a process of isolation on the question of plutonium, choosing a path, MOX, that is increasingly discredited. Direct disposal of spent fuels is the method favored by most nuclear operators in the world, including the present customers of COGEMA. It is unlikely, indeed impossible, that significant foreign contracts will be signed after the fulfillment of those in process:

-Belgium has officially excluded reprocessing in the future.

-The Netherlands will have no reactor in operation as of 2004.

-The German government has announced the end of shipments to reprocessing factories for 2005 at the latest.

-The Swiss government anticipates the prohibition of reprocessing.

-The Japanese utilities are the only ones to have let it be known that they would sign a new contract in the spring of 2001. But even if the contract is concluded, the quantity would be limited to 600 tons total, or the equivalent of four and one-half months of work for La Hague.

   In these conditions, the pressure on EDF and on the government is increasing. Contrary to some nuclear construction companies such as Framatome only half of whose business is now in nuclear, COGEMA has not (yet) developed a diversification strategy, even at least within the nuclear sector. Today, EDF and the French state are called to save COGEMA. But at what price?

   Economically unfavorable compared with uranium oxide fuel, problematical in terms of safety and proliferation, plutonium has seen its value revised downward for some years, reaching zero or negative levels even in EDF’s accounting. In an internal document at the end of August 2000, EDF’s assessment is quite clear: "The reprocessing/recycling option reveals to be extremely costly". What a revelation.

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