The strategy for the treatment and recycling of nuclear fuels extended at least until 2100

As France launches a new nuclear program, the question of the nuclear fuel cycle must not be forgotten. While visiting La Hague, the Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire announced the extension of the Cotentin plant and the initiation of studies on future industrial facilities.

The last Nuclear Policy Council (NPC) meeting on February 26 was limited to a minimal official communication. Only a few leaks in the press had revealed that significant investments would be made in the Orano La Hague plant. However, about ten days later, on Thursday, March 7, the Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire and the Minister of Industry Roland Lescure visited the Orano industrial site in Cotentin.

After extolling the importance of industrial independence and French sovereignty, Bruno Le Maire assured: “The time for major industrial projects has returned. And nuclear will play a central role.” This will involve a series of significant investments at La Hague with already three announcements:

  • A sustainability/resilience program extending the Orano La Hague (Manche) and Melox (Gard) plants beyond 2040;
  • The initiation of studies for a new MOX fuel manufacturing plant at the La Hague site;
  • The initiation of studies for a new spent fuel treatment plant, also at the La Hague site by 2045/2050.
In line with Belfort

The extension of the La Hague cycle plant beyond 2040, subject to the approval of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), “will go up to at least 2100, the EPR2s having a lifespan of [at least] 60 years,” assures the Ministry of Economy in a statement. “The strength of French nuclear power, with the mastery of the entire cycle,” is an asset for France, assures Bruno Le Maire. After the Belfort announcement in 2021 by the President of the Republic with the announcement of the extension of existing nuclear reactors and the construction of 6 to 14 EPR2s, France chooses to confirm its fuel recycling strategy at least until the end of the century.

In a statement, Orano reminds that “Treatment-recycling is the safest long-term solution for ultimate nuclear waste. In France, 10% of nuclear electricity is produced by recycling valuable materials in the form of MOX (Mixed Oxide) fuels. This rate can reach 25% and nearly 40% with the multi-recycling of spent MOX fuels.”

Nicolas Maes, CEO of Orano, reacts: “I am delighted with these announcements, which confirm the major orientations of the French policy on the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and which plan significant investments for the Orano La Hague site.” In an interview with a few journalists, Bruno Le Maire explains that “the cost estimates are ongoing (…),” but they will not be communicated until “the studies on financing methods and cost-sharing are finalized.” ■

By Ludovic Dupin (Sfen)

Photo: Bruno Le Maire and Roland Lescure during their visit to La Hague on March 7, 2024 – @DamienMeyer/AFP