Nuclear Fuel Recycling and New Power Plant Tour

The Center for Environment, Commerce & Energy traveled to France on a fact finding trip from November 24 - 29, 2007. The fact finding mission included three main parts: 1) Touring La Hague Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Facility, 2) Briefing at the French National Assembly, and 3) Touring the Civaux Nuclear Power Plant. In addition to the Center, other participants in the fact finding mission included the Alliance to Save Energy, Heritage Foundation National Association of Manufacturers, and Third Way.

France has 59 nuclear reactors operated by Electricite de France (EdF). France gets about 80% of its electricity from nuclear power plants and decided to 'go nuclear' in 1974 after the first oil shock. The French signature nuclear plant is the European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR). Used fuel from the French reactors and other countries are reprocessed at Areva's La Hague plant in Normandy (Cogema until 2006). After use the 100 percent uranium oxide composition of the rods becomes 96 percent uranium oxide with 1 percent plutonium and 3 percent fission products. France has been reprocessing its spent nuclear fuel at the facility since 1966. Unlike France, Japan and the United Kingdom, the United States does not reprocess nuclear fuel. It relies on a plentiful supply of relatively low-cost uranium to fuel its nuclear reactors.

                           Norris McDonald at Civaux nuclear power plant between the two reactors and cooling towers

                           Norris McDonald at Civaux nuclear power plant between the two reactors and cooling towers

So-called 'spent' nuclear fuel is not really spent at all. More than 90% of the energy is still in the fuel, which simply needs to be reprocessed to be recycled. Nuclear fuel recycling is arguably the most important reuse process available to the world today.

After the short 8 hour flight from Dulles Airport to Charles De Gaulle Airport, the group departed from the Paris St. Lazare Train Station and traveled to Areva's La Hague nuclear fuel reprocessing facility near Normandy (photo below). The short bus ride from the Cherbourg Train Station up to the facility was very pleasant because it started by the water front and led up to the top of the hills to a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean (see video below). La Hague could very easily be a resort destination and that probably explains the upscale community nearby. There are cows grazing near the facility along rolling hills and the vegetation is thick and healthy.

After a short presentation the group changed into sterilized white jumpsuits and proceeded to tour the facility, including the spent fuel storage pool, vitrification facility and control room. Questions were answered throughout the tour.

French National Assembly Office Building

The National Assembly of France is the French equivalent of our U.S. Congress. Our group met with Assemblyman Claude Birraux, Chairman of the Parliamentary Office for Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Options. After a short presentation the group questioned Birraux about nuclear issues in France. Mr. Birraux is second from right.

National Radioactive Waste Management Agency

The group viewed a powerpoint presentation by the French National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (ANDRA). ANDRA is a public industrial and commercial organization created by the December 30, 1991 Radioactive Waste Management Act (Waste Act). Andra operates independently of waste producers. It comes under the supervision of the French Ministries for Industry, Research and the Environment and is responsible for the long-term management of radioactive waste produced in France.

Tour Civaux Nuclear Power Plant

The group traveled by high speed train (TGV) from the Montparnasse Train Station in Paris to Poitiers, where the group traveled by bus to the Civaux Nuclear Facility. After a presentation by plant manager, the group put on hard hats and shoes and proceeded to the plant. The team toured the generating building and control room. The tour guides provided excellent answers to all of the group questions. Our host was Christian Nadal, who is the EdF representative in Washington, DC. This is France's newest nuclear power plant and it has a state-of-the-art control room. As in the U.S., this plant was spotless. Nuclear power in France provides an excellent model for other countries. The Civaux plant is owned by EdF and has two 1,500 megawatt pressurized light water reactors. This 3,000 megawatts provides enough electricity for 3 million homes.

Micheal O'Connell, Kateri Callahan, Derrick Freeman, Rob Keast, Keith Smith, Norris McDonald, Gilles Clement, David Brown, Jack Spencer & Laurie Harrison

Micheal O'Connell, Kateri Callahan, Derrick Freeman, Rob Keast, Keith Smith, Norris McDonald, Gilles Clement, David Brown, Jack Spencer & Laurie Harrison

After visiting the Godfather of Environmentalists For Nuclear Power at his home in Houilles, France we returned by train to Paris. Bruno is blessed with a beautiful wife and 2-year old son.  Bruno was the first environmentalist to support nuclear.  I was the first environmentalist in the USA to actively and publicly support nuclear power.