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France eyes spent uranium plant to bypass Russia

The French government has said it is “seriously” studying the option of building a plant to convert and enrich reprocessed uranium to cut its reliance on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

The only plant in the world that currently converts reprocessed uranium for use in nuclear power plants is located in Russia.

“The option of carrying out an industrial project to convert reprocessed uranium in France is being seriously examined,” the French industry and energy ministry told AFP on Thursday evening.

“The associated conditions are still being studied,” said the ministry.

The announcement came after French daily Le Monde said that state-owned power utility EDF had no immediate plans to halt uranium trade with Russia, while Moscow’s war against Ukraine stretches into its third year.

According to the newspaper, Jean-Michel Quilichini, head of the nuclear fuel division at EDF, said the company planned to continue to “honour” its 2018 contract with Tenex, a subsidiary of Russia’s state nuclear power company Rosatom.

The contract stipulates that reprocessed uranium from French nuclear power plants is to be sent to a facility in the town of Seversk (formerly Tomsk-7) in western Siberia to be converted and then re-enriched before being reused in nuclear plants.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, the West has slapped multiple rounds of sanctions on Moscow but Russia’s nuclear power has remained largely unscathed.

Contacted by AFP, EDF said that it was “maximising the diversification of its geographical sources and suppliers”, without however specifying the proportion of its enriched reprocessed uranium supplies that comes from Russia.

EDF also said it and several partners were discussing “the construction of a reprocessed uranium conversion plant in Western Europe by 2030”.

Environment and climate NGO Greenpeace has condemned the continuing uranium trade between Russia and France despite Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The fact that the French nuclear industry has never invested in the construction of such a facility on French soil indicates a lack of interest in a tedious and unprofitable industrial process,” Greenpeace said in a report in 2021.

It accused France of using Siberia “as a garbage dump for the French nuclear industry”.

In recent years France has been seeking to resuscitate its domestic uranium reprocessing industry.

In early February, a reactor at the Cruas nuclear power station in southeastern France was restarted using its first recycled uranium fuel load, EDF said at the time.

Source: The AFP