Nuclear energy: American academics in France


Organized every two or three years since 1996, in 2022, the “Tour de France” brought together a dozen American teachers for a journey tinged with heritage and technology. A look back at this event organized by Sfen/Sfans (the French section of the American Nuclear Society), which highlights French know-how and industrial heritage.

The Sfen/Sfans (French Section of the American Nuclear Society) organized the eleventh edition of a technical trip to France for a group of American university professors from 26 June to 2 July 2022. Traditionally called the “Tour de France,” it has been organized every two or three years since 1996. In total, more than 130 professors from universities in 24 different states have been able to participate in these trips, which are now widely known in the academic world on the other side of the Atlantic and which constitute one of the flagship activities of Sfans, the French Section of the American Nuclear Society. It should be noted here that this “Tour de France” was awarded a special prize from the President of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) in 2018 on its tenth edition.

After two cancellations of the event due to the Covid-19 pandemic, nine participants were present this year from eight universities, teaching and researching in different disciplines related to the nuclear field: reactor physics, materials, chemistry, radiation protection, modeling and simulation, instrumentation and control, environment, waste, and finally, nuclear fusion (for one of them). Eight teachers were accompanied by one person, making up a group for which a unique program of tourist and technical visits had been prepared.

This year’s technical program included the following visits in succession:

Monday 27 June: Visit the CEA site at Cadarache with a presentation on the Jules Horowitz Reactor (JHR) project, the Plinius test platform for the study of severe accidents using large masses of “prototypical” corium, the Aix-Marseille Institute of Biosciences and Biotechnologies (BIAM) and finally a visit to the ITER nuclear fusion site.

Tuesday 28 June: Visit the Atalante laboratory for R&D on the fuel cycle (Marcoule site), the Tricastin site (ORANO) in the afternoon with the uranium chemistry installations, and especially the GBII uranium enrichment plant (visit to Melox in previous years).

Wednesday 29 June: Visit the Framatome site in Chalon/St. Marcel, where large nuclear reactor components are manufactured (in particular PWR tanks and steam generators).

Thursday 30 June: Visit Andra’s Aube storage center (CSA) for the surface storage of low- and intermediate-level short-lived waste (the Bure laboratory in previous years).

Friday 1 July: Visit the irradiated fuel processing plant at La Hague: UP3, including the vitrification workshop and the storage of vitrified packages. This was followed at the end of the day by a visit to the EDF site of the Flamanville EPR reactor.

The tour ended on Saturday with a guided tour of the D-Day landing beaches, including the village of Sainte Mère l’Eglise, the Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery at Colleville. It was a real emotional moment for all participants. This is the occasion to mention that the programme of tourist visits reserved for accompanying persons mainly included the following stages: Forcalquier, Aix-en-Provence (Cadarache region), Pont du Gard and Uzès (Marcoule region), Chalon-sur-Saône (with its Niepce Museum of Photography), Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises (Bure region), and finally, in the Cotentin region, Villedieu-les-Poêles (with its famous bell and brass factories) and Mont-Saint-Michel.

This 2022 edition of the “Tour de Frace” was once again a great success in terms of technical and academic exchanges. This event remains a privileged means of strengthening our relations with the ANS and the American academic world in the nuclear field by raising awareness of our achievements in this area. This year, the technical program and the exchanges and discussions were focused on the central theme of the end of the fuel cycle, in particular, the examination of the issues related to the management of high-level waste and the option of vitrification of this waste adopted in France. Within this framework, the main objectives of this “Tour de France” were:

  • To provide American professors with a concrete and relevant vision of the French nuclear program, enabling them to share tho this information to their students. 
  • To strengthen the mutual relationship between SFANS and ANS through the participation of these professors, most of whom are active members of ANS.
  • To organize an exchange of views on the respective academic programs of the two countries for the training of nuclear power engineers.

The American professors were asked to give us a report summarizing their reactions and comments on the organization of the trip. They also reported their perceptions of the French nuclear industry and how this information could be used in their respective nuclear engineering courses. We quote two of these reactions here:

  • “The 2022 Nuclear “Tour de France” was a tremendous opportunity for faculty and their guests from the United States (US) to better understand French nuclear infrastructure and the French vision for their energy future. The experience provided is invaluable for these faculty to convey to their students the progress in France, particularly the progress towards closing the fuel cycle, where the French vision differs from the experience in the US.”
  • “It was an exciting trip and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. In 7 days, we traveled around France from the Mediterranean to the English Channel, covering 3181 km (1977 miles). From Cadarache to La Hague, I am amazed by the prosperity of the French nuclear industry and research.»


Published on 15 July  2022

By Dominique Grenêche, Chairman of Sfen’s Technical Section 1 (Education and Training)