Cadarache Special - Plutonium Investigation n°20

Production of MOX at the ATPu

The ATPu began producing plutonium fuel in 1962, for research reactors, then fuel for fast neutron reactors in France (Phénix and Superphénix), and in the U.K. (Dounreay, Scotland).

With the aim of moving to industrial production of MOX, and after re-examination of the safety of the facility in 1987 by the safety authority — then known as the central safety department for nuclear installation (SCSIN - Service Central de Sûreté des Installations Nucléaires) — "the authorization to pursue fuel manufacturing activities" was granted.7 In January 1989, within the framework of this procedure, the SCSIN authorized — and without a decree modifying the INB 8 — the use of the ATPu for manufacture of MOX fuel for water-cooled reactors, stating that "the characteristics of these fuels come […] within the more general envelope established for fuels for fast neutron reactors." 9

Production has diversified since:

  • Production of fuels for fast neutron reactors continued until 1999. The last delivery for Superphénix dates from the end of 1996 10, but the ATPu subsequently produced fuel for the Phénix reactor. The last production runs were in the years 1998 and 1999 and involved 1.3 tons and 1.2 tons of fuel respectively. No further runs for Phénix are planned.11

  • Industrial production of MOX fuel for light-water reactors began in 1991, with a rapid growth in annual production. The plant doubled its output in two years, going from 15.3 tons of heavy metal (tHM) uranium and plutonium in 1993 to 31.6 tHM in 1995. Production has continued to increase since, reaching 41.4 tHM in 2000.

MOX for light-water reactors was produced mainly for Germany. According to Mr Philippe Pradel, then Production Manager at COGEMA's Fuels and Recycling Division,12 EDF used MOX from Cadarache until 1996. Since then only a few fuel rods have been occasionally made for the French generating company. It is fair to say that for several years the ATPu's activity has been entirely devoted to contracts to supply German operators with MOX.

According to COGEMA (on the CEA-Cadarache website) the ATPu "has two production lines with an annual capacity that can reach 35 tons of MOX fuel." According to DSIN, the total capacity is actually of 45 tons 13. In May 2000, Philippe Pradel confirmed the existence of the two lines and stated that only one of them is used to produce MOX for pressurized-water reactors. In the future, the plant may supply MOX for boiling water reactors, although this is not planned at present. The second was reserved for manufacture of fuels for fast neutron reactors and produced fuels for Phénix and Superphénix.


7 According to Bulletin Sûreté Nucléaire, n°67, 1-2/1989.

8 Under the terms of Decree N°63-1228 of 11 December 1963 relative to INB, a new authorization for a given INB is necessary if "modifications that could lead to failure to observe conditions previously imposed on the installation" are made to it.

9 According to Bulletin Sûreté Nucléaire, n°67, 1-2/1989. It is stated that "bringing into service workstations assigned to the production of mixed plutonium and uranium oxide fuel assemblies for light-water reactors […] is authorized", referring to a Telex, 13 January 1989.

10 Probably assemblies meeting special product requirements under the CAPRA program: COGEMA's 1997 Annual Report indicated that three experimental assemblies for a fast neutron reactor were supplied in 1996 by COGEMA-Cadarache.

11 Personal communication from Mr J. E. Saulnier, spokesperson for COGEMA, 1 February 2001

12 Personal communication of 19 May 2000.

13 DSIN communication, 23 May 2000. One line produces MOX fuel for pressurized water reactors, and has a capacity of 35 t, the other line can produce an additional 10 t, or alternatively around 1.5 t of fuel for fast breeder reactors.

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