Orano to start dismantling Georges Besse enrichment plant

18 February 2020

French nuclear fuel cycle company Orano has been authorised to begin dismantling the Georges Besse diffusion enrichment plant at the Tricastin complex in southeastern France. The plant was shut down in June 2012 following 33 years of service and was replaced by the centrifuge-based Georges Besse II plant.

Diffusers at the Georges Besse enrichment plant (Image: Orano)

Uranium enrichment is the process of raising the concentration of uranium-235 in a feedstock from a natural level of about 0.7% to the 3-5% required for use as fuel in light-water reactors. Georges Besse did this by the gaseous diffusion process, which is now being supplanted worldwide by centrifuge systems that require far less energy. The plant began operating in 1979 and met the enrichment needs of around 100 power reactors in France and around the world.

A decree authorising Orano to begin dismantling of the Georges Besse plant was published in the Official Journal on 7 February.

"A new chapter is now opening for the next three decades, with the start of the dismantling of the installation," Orano said. "These operations will consist of dismantling all the industrial equipment." The project, it said, includes the dismantling of the 1400 stages of the diffusion cascade, which represents 160,000 tonnes of steel, 30,000 tonnes of metallic equipment and more than 1300 kilometres of piping. Prior to the dismantling operations, processing units will be installed in the old factory buildings for the cutting and compaction of industrial equipment.

"Dismantling is a real industrial operation, characterised here by the gigantic size of the installation and its equipment," said Philippe Horteur, director of end of cycle operations at Orano's Tricastin site.

Georges Besse and Georges Besse II - which reached its full production capacity of 7.5 million SWU at the end of 2016 - are located at the 650-hectare Tricastin site, which is also home to several other nuclear facilities. EDF owns the four Tricastin nuclear power reactors that supply 3590 MWe. Orano's Comhurex plant converts uranium oxide powder into uranium hexafluoride gas ready for the enrichment process. The Pierrelatte facility handles and stores depleted uranium recovered from defluorination after enrichment, and from processing of used nuclear fuel. Also part of Pierrelatte, the FBFC-CERCA plant produces structural parts for nuclear fuel assemblies. SOCATRI recovers uranium from used enrichment components and treats industrial discharges from the site. In total over 2500 people work at Tricastin.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News