France - Plutonium Investigationn°19

Worth Reading

Étude économique prospective de la filière électrique nucléaire
(Economic forecast for nuclear power, an English version will be available within a few weeks)

   by Jean-Michel Charpin, Benjamin Dessus, René Pellat. Report for France's Prime Minister. September 2000, Paris. 252 pages.

   The plutonium industry is costing France a great deal: around 164 billion Francs as compared to the uranium option. This is one of the shattering conclusions from a report ordered by the French Prime Minister into the economics of nuclear energy, handed to him on 28 July 2000. The study, carried out by three authors with very different views, provides numerous elements for analysis without, however, making recommandations. The report is based on an original method describing the physical material flows associated with the electricity sector to establish a chronology for expenditure in different forecasting scenarios for the 2000-2050 period and calculating, at the end of the process, the discounted costs of production of electricity.

   In this way, the report distinguishes between different scenarios for renewal of the present nuclear generating capacity (not before 2025 thanks to a hypothetical extension of power plant life to over 40 years) using "evolutionary" nuclear technologies (e.g. the European Pressurized Reactor) or revolutionary technologies (high-temperature reactors) or gas technology with combined cycle. It compares these alternatives in high-electricity-demand and low-electricity-demand scenarios, demonstrating the economic advantages of the latter.

   The comparison of future solutions is based on a very detailed evaluation of France's present nuclear power plants (limited to pressurized water reactors), since its inception in 1977 to the end of its life. This analysis, to which WISE-Paris contributed, shows that the strategies for reprocessing and re-use of plutonium in MOX, are systematically more expensive than storage, with very limited savings in terms of uranium and reductions in the quantities of plutonium in waste. Over the life of the nuclear power plants, the report assesses the additional cost of the reprocessing-MOX route at 164 billion Francs, with an accumulation of 4,800 tons of irradiated MOX (needing to be stored for up to 150 years more than UOX), a saving of 38,000 tons (i.e. 8%) of natural uranium, and a reduction in the stock of unseparated plutonium from 667 to 514 tons. The report thus calculates an additional cost of over 1 billion Francs per "tonne of plutonium avoided" in the final waste stockpile.

   Leaving the responsibility of choice to the politicians, the three authors propose a global analysis that was lacking so far. The result is, according to French Minister of environment Dominique Voynet, "maybe the first equitable report in French nuclear history."

   The report, published by “la Documentation Française”, is available on the Internet, at:

   The study is based on three additional reports, published by the Commissariat général du Plan, available on the Internet at:

• Le parc nucléaire actuel, (the present nuclear power plant equipment)
by Philippe Girard and Yves Marignac (Deputy Director of WISE-Paris), 434 pages

• La prospective technologique de la filière nucléaire, (technological forecasting for the nuclear energy sector)
by Jean Bergeron, Jean-Paul Schapira, Alain Simon, Jean-Baptiste Thomas, 129 pages

• La prospective technologique des filières non nucléaires, (technological forecasting for non-nuclear energy sectors)
by Maurice Claverie, Daniel Clément, Claude Girard, Fouzy Benkhalifa, Michel Labrousse, 166 pages

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