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Nuclear Saturation

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In one to two years' time, French power plants will no longer know where to store their spent fuel

The huge pools at La Hague (Manche), where irradiated fuel from French nuclear power plants is cooled, are approaching saturation which could gradually block all French reactors, warns the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). This information sheds new light on the nuclear strategy announced on Tuesday by Emmanuel Macron. The government's multiannual energy programming plan (PPE) calls for the closure of 50 % of the French reactor fleet by 2035. Will this timetable be compatible with the saturation of spent fuel storage?

Aith 5 to 7% maximum available space, we are at the edge of intestinal occlusion. In the Orano pools at La Hague," Greenpeace France nuclear affairs officer Yannick Rousselet told AFP. In these pools, about 10,000 tonnes of spent fuel for electricity production are cooled before, for the most part, being reprocessed on site.
If these facilities, which are aging, " stop for a technical problem, we're six months away from saturation... ", continues Mr. Rousselet, pointing out the multiplication of hazards.
 
In the event of a sudden shutdown at La Hague and if neither plant really starts up again, in one or two years the pools will be full. "IRSN Director General Thierry Charles, interviewed by AFP, added a nuance to this, but " in a few short years "The French reactors as a whole are gradually shutting down due to the lack of a place to dispose of the spent fuel.
 

Very tense situation

The situation is " generally very tense IRSN, which is the technical arm of the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), summarized in a report published in October, "in the pools at La Hague and those at the power plants where the fuels are first immersed before being sent to the pools at Orano.
The percentage of space available in the pools is crossed out. According to a draft of the report, of which AFP had a copy, this rate was 7.4% on January 1, 2016, far from the 30% posted today by Orano. According to corroborating sources, the company has free spaces occupied by scrap that it plans to empty.
 
Anyway, a " gradual saturation " threatens swimming pools: the amount of fuel increases by one " small hundred tonnes per year because EDF sends more fuel to La Hague than Orano retires," Charles said.
The swimming pools at La Hague will be full at the latest." shortly after 2030 ", according to IRSN. EDF". is currently working on the design of a swimming pool "additional 5,000 tons, operational." around 2030 "according to the company. According to Greenpeace, this basin would be considered in Belleville-sur-Loire (Cher).
But what does the industrialist expect in the event of a "delay"? the ASN asked him in an opinion on 18 October.
 

The "dry storage" trail.

Especially since the EDF project " does not allow for the integration of a margin to deal with possible contingencies. "while the" ageing "of the factories" could call into question (...) the sustainability of the installations. ", according to IRSN.
 
From the faster-than-expected corrosion of 8-metre high evaporators, made public in 2016, to the replacement announced in mid-November of a 3.6-tonne part that was too worn, and a strike lasting a month and a half: La Hague is already subject to hazards. Orano has reprocessed and therefore removed less fuel from the pools than planned in 2017 and 2018.
 
Beyond that, the risk of saturation of the pools complicates the reduction from 75 to 50% of the share of nuclear power in French electricity production. For the time being, only old reactors, which are likely to be shut down, operate with MOX, the fuel manufactured by Orano from plutonium extracted from spent fuel. However, if "moxed" reactors are shut down, Orano extracts less fuel from its pools to manufacture the MOX that feeds them, IRSN explains.
 
Concerned "In response to the question, LREM deputy Barbara Pompili, interviewed by AFP, asked that the possibility of "dry storage" of spent fuel, common in foreign countries that do not practice reprocessing, a French exception, be examined.
 
IRSN estimates that it will take only about five years to set up this system. However, EDF states that it "does not expect the system to be in place within the next five years". not (have) opted for this solution "for "safety" reasons. Nearly 5,000 people work at La Hague, the site with the highest concentration of radioactivity in Europe.
 
Source: AFP
 

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