PARIS, April 25--American Nuclear Society awarded its “Nuclear Historic Landmark Award” to AREVA’S La Hague plant. Anne Lauvergeon, Chair of AREVA’s Executive Board, was presented the award by ANS President, James Tulenko.
The ANS Nuclear Historic Landmark Award identifies and memorializes sites or facilities where outstanding physical accomplishments took place that were instrumental in the advancement and implementation of nuclear technology and in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Nominated sites have to be in service for at least 20 years to qualify.
“The La Hague plant has shown for three decades that it is technically feasible to treat used fuel from around the world on an industrial scale. It is a sustainable solution for the management of used fuel and nuclear waste,” said James Tulenko.
“The plant boasts many world firsts among its 40 workshops and has treated more than 20,000 metric tons of used fuel from nuclear reactors in Europe and Japan. This is the equivalent of 10 years of nuclear electricity consumption in the US,” Lauvergeon added.
Paul Longsworth, Assistant Energy Secretary at the US DOE presented Mme. Lauvergeon a congratulatory letter from Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. In his remarks at the ceremony, Longsworth highlighted the longer term goals the Bush administration is undertaking: “We are working with 11 member nations in the Generation IV International Forum to develop the next generation of nuclear energy systems. A month ago, at the French Embassy in Washington, Secretary Bodman joined with France’s Ambassador to the United States and representatives from the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada to sign the Generation IV International Forum Framework agreement. This the first multilateral agreement in history aimed at the development of next-generation nuclear energy systems.”
“The United States is also taking very aggressive efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, materials, and expertise. With broader use of nuclear power comes greater responsibility. The nuclear energy sectorís top priority must always be safety--avoiding accidentsóand securityópreventing the malicious use of nuclear technology and materials.”
The Fuel Cycle
Uranium ore is extracted and finely ground taking the form of a bright yellow paste. After enrichment, it is compressed into small pellets and packed in metallic rods. The bundled rods form the core of the reactor. After producing energy for 3 to 4 years, the spent rods are removed. In the US rods are stored; in France rods are reprocessed and recycled. So does Germany, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland and The Netherlands. “Treating used fuel reduces the volume of final waste by a factor of five, with 96% of the used fuel being recycled. This is an area in which AREVA’s technological expertise is unrivalled. With this award, the ANS is recognizing the professionalism of our teams”, Lauvergeon said.
Neither Uranium nor Plutonium is fully burned in the reactor. The spent material is highly radioactive and is stored next to the reactor in a cooling pond for a year before shipping. The material is recooled in one of the four ponds at La Hague for three more years before reprocessing can start.
World-Gen visited the Valognes terminal where both seaborne and rail containers transit through before arriving at La Hague. The materials are packed and hermetically sealed in casks that hold 10 tons of nuclear matter. “There is no rail link to La Hague,” Francois Harari, VP of AREVA Logistics told World-Gen. “Truck convoys carry the casks 40 kilometers to La Hague.”
The choice of unloading depends on the type of container used during transportation and the characteristics of the fuel being unloaded. The dry unloading method (TO facility) which involves connecting the container with the discharge cell, only receives the MARK II family type or equivalent container. The wet unloading procedure (NPH facility) can receive and unload all types of container, including small packing units used to transport fuel from research reactors (HAO facility). Ruptured fuel units in semi-watertight containers are unloaded under water. Whatever the unloading procedure, the fuel is placed in baskets and then transferred to inter-connecting storage pools.
The fuel still contains between 94 and 96% of uranium and 1% of plutonium. Although it has lost its initial efficiency, it has not released all of its energy. The mission of the reprocessing plant in La Hague is to recover the energy potential remaining in the uranium and plutonium, and recycle it into new fuel. “Half of La Hague’s work meets the needs of the French Nuclear Program”, Eric Blanc, Director of Operations said at a press conference. “As of January 2005, 20,500 metric tons (MT) of spent fuel has been reprocessed and recycled at La Hague: E de F 10,863 MTs; German utilities 5,091 MTs; Japanese utilities 2,944 MTs; Synatom 672 MTís; Swiss utilities 659 MTs and EPZ 293 MTs. AREVA is the world’s number one nuclear fuel reprocessor.”
Non-recycle fission products, separated from re-usable fuel material, are highly radioactive. The facilities incorporate these non-recyclable fission products into glass to contain them and to pack this glass in canisters. Vitrification is the final step in the reprocessing cycle for spent fuel; it packs highly active solutions in a form compatible with secure ultimate disposal. Processing 1.5 tonnes of spent fuel gives one 150-litre container of glass, and the initial volume of liquid waste is divided by five.
The reprocessing activities in La Hague offers obvious advantages from an environmental point of view. Recycling reduces recourse to natural uranium sources. It also significantly decreases the volume and the toxicity of radioactive waste in comparison to the direct disposal of spent fuel (with no processing).
Reprocessing nuclear fuel is therefore in line with the policies of ecological responsibility and sustainable development: serving the greater good of the community, seeking the best compromise between the wellbeing of present generations and the protection of future generations, while paring the planet’s resources.
Lauvergeon shared her vision of the future of nuclear energy, and the role that recycling technologies can play in the decades to come.
“When the first plant was commissioned in La Hague, the expression “sustainable development” did not even exist. Yet, the French decision for a closed fuel cycle was driven by the very same principles:
Ensure the most efficient use of a finite resource, uranium
Condition safely ultimate waste
Minimize the quantity and toxicity of waste that must ultimately go to the final repository.
From inception, maximizing safety and minimizing the environmental impact of the plant were key concerns that we addressed. Today, sustainable development is a driving factor. When the US-DOE set up the Generation IV International Forum, experts were asked to define criteria to screen new technologies. And sustainable development was one of them, with the same two key elements. It is therefore not a surprise that 5 out of 6 reactor concepts selected are associated to a closed fuel-cycle.
Accordingly, the US-DOE set-up the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative to further developing treatment technologies; in France, the CEA has similar research programs. We are proud that our facilities can provide a robust and comprehensive experience which will be useful to design and implement the fuel cycle of the next generation of power plants. But we are just as proud that our current technologies are making today valuable contributions in the US:
La Hague technology is being used for Yucca Mountain
Our casks and our unrivalled transportation experience can support the safe movement of used fuel from reactors to Yucca Mountain
Our MOX technology is already put to good use in the international fissile material disposition program, which is sometimes called MOX for Peace.
Vitrification and other conditioning technologies may contribute at such DOE sites as Hanford or Savannah.
Clearly current technologies can help nuclear move further. In fact, having a clear path for the back-end of the fuel cycle really is an immediate concern. It is one of the conditions that must be met to support the “nuclear renaissance”; and we have many ideas, derived from our experience and know-how, that we are ready to share. It is a good time to act, since all the conditions for new build are there:
•The economics are there
•Nuclear energy avoids Carbon emission
•Advanced products, such as the EPR, are in the market
•Innovative services are available.
“I firmly believe that nuclear energy has a great and long-term future. AREVA will continue to invest and develop state-of-the-art technologies and facilities to provide outstanding services to its customers. And I would be delighted if, in the future, one of these facilities would receive such a wonderful American Nuclear Society Award.”
There are approximately 130 nuclear reactors in North America, 215 in Europe and 85 in Asia. In Africa, only South Africa has nuclear reactors. Only Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are equipped in Central and Southern America.