EDF and France’s Veolia on 26 June entered a partnership agreement to co-develop remote control solutions for dismantling gas-cooled reactors and for vitrifying radioactive waste, in France and worldwide. EDF is currently decommissioning six first generation gas-cooled natural uranium graphite reactors at the Bugey, Chinon and Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux NPPs. The reactors, which are permanently shut down, began commercial operation between 1964 and 1972. France’s Authority Nuclear Safety (ASN) says dismantling the plants could take until 2100 to complete.

EDF said key milestones have already been secured on all these complex projects, and confirmed its intention to dismantle the facilities in the shortest timeframe possible. Veolia will provide EDF with its experience in remote handling technologies (robotics) with a view to designing and delivering innovative solutions to access the cores of gas-cooled reactors and to cut up and extract components under optimum safety and security conditions. Veolia’s robotics skills were acquired in 2016 through the acquisition of the American company Kurion.

EDF and Veolia will also work to develop an industrial solution for the vitrification of low- and intermediate-level waste using Veolia’s GeoMelt technology, which immobilises the waste in a glass matrix making it easier to transport and store. Veolia, through its subsidiary, Veolia Nuclear, will make available to EDF technologies already tested in the USA, Canada, the UK and Japan, but not yet in France, which the partnership with EDF can help to industrialise.

"The challenge is to build a real industry to work in France but also outside France," said Veolia CEO Antoine Frerot, during the signing ceremony. He added that the technology used for gas-cooled reactirs could also be extended, later to pressurised water reactors. Frérot said the collaboration with EDF, “which is expected to grow over time, demonstrates the extent of each company’s vision and ambition with regard to processing the most environmentally sensitive waste and preserving the environment”. EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy said the agreement “underscores EDF’s determination to become a key player in decommissioning and radioactive waste management”.