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Processing for recycling

AREVA recycling plant in la Hague<br>

AREVA recycling plant in la Hague<br>

Spent fuel is recycled in a two-stage process:

  • The recyclable materials are separated from the end waste at the AREVA recycling plant in la Hague.
  • These materials are then used to manufacture the recycled fuel.

Separating and packaging the recyclable materials

The used fuel that is unloaded from a nuclear reactor at the end of its life contains materials suitable for recycling, including both uranium (95 % of the recovered fuel) and plutonium (1 %). The remaining 4 % consists of end waste that is not recyclable (fission products and minor actinides).

The used fuel recycling and reprocessing cycle extends over around ten years. It begins when the fuel is unloaded from the reactor. The fuel spends between six months and a year in the reactor storage pool, before being transferred to a storage pool for a period of three to four years.

The spent fuel is then reprocessed in the following stages:

  • The fuel passes through a series of mechanical and chemical processes to separate the recyclable materials from the non-recyclable end waste (fission products and minor actinides).
  • The uranium and plutonium are packaged ready for recycling.
  • The end waste from the fuel is packaged, together with the technological waste.

Packaging the materials for the production of recycled fuel

On completion of all reprocessing operations, the output from the AREVA plant at la Hague consists of the following:

  • The plutonium is converted into plutonium oxide powder (PuO2), and used in the manufacture of new MOX fuel (a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxides), suitable for re-use in a nuclear reactor.

  • Reprocessed uranium in the form of concentrated uranyl nitrate liquid ready for conversion in the AREVA Pierrelatte plant into uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) prior to enrichment and re-use.

AREVA la Hague plant has two production lines with a production level equivalent to 450 tWh of electricity per year (1700 tonnes of spent fuel per year). AREVA la Hague is the largest employer in the North Cotentin region with 4000 employees at AREVA la Hague.

The safe packaging of end waste

Reprocessing spent fuel has the following advantages:

  • The volume and radiotoxicity of the waste is reduced, compared with the storage of unprocessed spent fuel.
  • The waste is packaged in a way that is safe and stable for thousands of years.
  • The waste can be transported in compete safety

The fission products and minor actinides are processed in the following way:

  • The waste is calcined.
  • It is then incorporated into a chemically stable glass matrix.
  • Finally, the molten glass is poured into stainless steel containers.

The metal components of the fuel assemblies are processed as follows:

  • They are first crushed.
  • They are then packed into stainless steel containers similar to those used for the vitrified waste.

The method of packaging guarantees the containment of the radioactivity, and is stable over a very long term. The end waste is then returned to its owners, who are responsible for its subsequent management.
New AREVA undertakes the reprocessing of used fuel on behalf of nuclear power generators and operators, together with organizations and institutions responsible for managing the downstream fuel cycle.AREVA has customers throughout the world, but most are in western Europe and Japan.

All reprocessing operations are carried out under the supervision of the French and international safety authorities. These are the ASN (Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire) in France, Euratom (the European Atomic Energy Community), and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).

Vitrification of Waste