Jacques Bouchard, director of the French atomic energy commission’s nuclear energy division, said that reprocessing combined with plutonium recycling and commissioning of fast neutron reactors will ensure long-term availability of uranium.

At the annual conference of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Bouchard said: “With existing light water reactors, we burn only 1% of the natural uranium and put aside 99%, either in provisional storage or waste disposal. If we don’t improve this, we shall exhaust in a few decades the uranium that can be recovered at a low price.” Bouchard said France’s 250MWe Phénix reactor was undergoing inspection, renovation and maintenance operations “to be back on power before the end of this year”. Phénix’s future operation of six irradiation cycles would focus on “experimental studies contributing to technological demonstration of transmutation with fast neutron reactors”.

The end of the plant’s lifetime is now 2007-2008. It is the country’s only remaining fast neutron reactor, following the 1998 decision to close the 1200MWe Superphénix plant.