This story is adapted from an article that first appeared in the June 24, 2010 issue of Fuel Cycle Week, trade newsletter offering complete coverage of the nuclear fuel cycle from a U.S. business perspective. It has been repurposed with permission.
During the week of June 8-11 AREVA brought five North American writers to France for a tour of its fuel-cycle facilities. I was one of them, and I was impressed.
The French nuclear giant has been engaging with pronuclear bloggers in scheduled online discussions for more than a year. As far as I know, it is the only nuclear company that does anything like that. The company is justly proud of its investments and achievements, and wants to get its story out. This trip was an extension of that long-term effort.
Lately AREVA has been working to enhance its productivity and environmental performance, focusing particularly on reducing its consumption of electricity and waste discharge. It also is trying to improve its material usage and raise productivity by cutting cycle times in several processes.
Cutting Electricity Consumption
One site where these efforts are making a visible impact is AREVA’s Tricastin, which houses the George Besse I gaseous diffusion plant and the George Besse II gas centrifuge cascades, which will be fully operational by 2018. The company’s shift from gaseous diffusion to centrifuge enrichment is a great example of its internal environmental campaign.
Outside the fence surrounding the enrichment plant is an EDF power plant with four 900-MWe units. Were the gaseous diffusion plant running at full annual capacity (about 10.8 million SWU), it would consume the output from three of the units, a total of 2,700 MWe. In reality, the plant averages about 8 million SWU each year.
When the 14 centrifuge cascades of George Besse II North and South fully replace the gaseous diffusion plant, total electricity consumption will drop to 50 MWe for an initial annual capacity of 7.5 million SWU. It will have room to expand to 11 million SWU. In effect, the €3 billion enrichment facility will create 2,650 MW of new generating capacity, which will cost about $1,500 per kilowatt. Quite a bargain.
Comurhex II: Efficient Use of Materials
Enrichment Technology Corp. (ETC), a 50-50 joint venture of AREVA and Urenco, is now manufacturing thousands of gas centrifuges that will equip the new cascades. ETC also supplies centrifuges for the new LES enrichment facility, and will likewise produce them for AREVA’s Eagle Rock facility.
Being a facilities geek, I noticed the strength and resilience of the centrifuge foundations, which would serve as shock absorbers during earthquakes. Careful engineering design also went into the canisters and connection systems that deliver UF6 to the cascades. Embedded throughout the system are a plethora of mechanisms to prevent leakage and afford plant workers minimal exposure.
AREVA plans to replace its current conversion plant, Comurhex I with Comurhex II, which will employ several chemical process improvements to eliminate the use of ammonia. A new gas treatment process will reduce the amount of reagents used, and a new reverse osmosis filtering system will nearly get rid of nitrate discharges. When it opens in 2012, Comurhex II will be able to produce 15,000 tonnes of UF6 each year.
EPR Can Burn 100% MOX
AREVA is also focusing on its fuel recycling process and mixed oxide (MOX) fuel production. It has 38 nuclear plants in France, Germany, Japan, Belgium and Switzerland that run on fuel assemblies in which a third of the fuel is AREVA’s MOX. Its new EPR will be able to operate on a load that is 100% MOX.
AREVA’s Melox facility, which is not far from Avignon, receives plutonium dioxide from the La Hague recycling facility and mixes it with uranium dioxide to produce fuel pellets that have nuclear characteristics that are similar to low-enriched uranium.
Company officials would not discuss production costs, other than to say that the cost of using low-enriched fuel with recycled MOX does not substantially differ from the cost of low-enriched fuel on a once through cycle.
The writers on the tour were more technically knowledgeable than many average journalists, and asked hard questions. But it was obvious to everyone that AREVA has been working hard to produce the best possible products with the lowest possible environmental impact, while keeping its costs within reason. And we appreciated learning about that.
Members of the Tour Group
Meredith Angwin – Yes Vermont Yankee
Stephen Aplin – Canadian Energy Issues
Jack Gamble – Nuclear Fissionary
Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World (Note: Gwyneth Cravens paid for her own trip.)
Rod Adams, Atomic Insights and The Atomic Show Podcast