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PARIS: 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.
PARIS: 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.
France eyes spent uranium plant to bypass Russia

PARIS: 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 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 late Thursday.

“The associated conditions are still being studied,” the ministry said. 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, as Moscow’s war against Ukraine stretches into its third year.

Environment and climate NGO Greenpeace condemned the continuing uranium trade between Russia and France despite Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and urged France to cut ties with Russia’s state nuclear power company Rosatom. “If Emmanuel Macron wants to have a coherent stance on Ukraine, he must stop the French nuclear industry’s collaboration with Rosatom and demand the termination of Russian contracts,” Pauline Boyer of Greenpeace France said in a statement to AFP on Friday.

“For the time being, his ‘support without limits’ for Ukraine has one limit: his business with Rosatom,” she said. According to Le Monde, Jean-Michel Quilichini, head of the nuclear fuel division at EDF, said the company planned to continue to “honor” its 2018 contract with Tenex, a Rosatom subsidiary.

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 imposed several rounds of sanctions on Moscow, but Russia’s nuclear power has remained largely unscathed. Contacted by AFP, EDF said it was “maximizing the diversification of its geographical sources and suppliers”, without specifying the proportion of its enriched reprocessed uranium supplies that comes from Russia.

Greenpeace said it was “scandalous” that EDF insisted on continuing honoring its agreement with Rosatom. “It is neither legitimate nor ethical for EDF to continue doing business with Rosatom, a company in the service of Vladimir Putin, which has illegally occupied the Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine for over two years, and is participating in the nuclear threat whipped up by Russia in this war,” Boyer said.

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

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