André-Claude Lacoste, director general of the French nuclear safety authority DGSNR has ruled that France's Phenix fast breeder reactor can restart for power operation. The 250MWe sodium- cooled fast neutron reactor has been offline since 1998 for a major inspection, repair and safety upgrade project estimated to cost over E200 million.
The Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique (CEA), which owns and operates Phenix, expects the reactor to be ready for restart in March 2003. CEA wants to use Phenix for transmutation experiments for another six operating cycles, taking it to 2010. It will operate with two of its original three loops.
The transmutation experiments are part of France's strategy for long-term management of long-lived radwaste. However, restarting Phenix is controversial because of its age - it first achieved criticality in 1973.
CEA also wants to use Phenix as a test-bed for operation of fast reactors in general. Fast reactors cooled by gas or liquid metal were identified late last year by the USA-led Generation IV International Forum as a promising technology to be explored for a potential new generation of nuclear plants.