Unit 2 of the Cruas-Meysse nuclear power plant in south-eastern France has been restarted using its first full core of recycled uranium fuel. The achievement marks a large step for France in its efforts to revive its domestic uranium reprocessing industry.

The reprocessed uranium (RepU) is obtained from used fuel from nuclear reactors that has been processed at Orano’s La Hague reprocessing plant. The enriched uranium can be used again to fuel nuclear power reactors.

There are only four reactors in France that are certified to use Enriched Reprocessed Uranium (ERU), all based at the Cruas-Meysse plant in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Previously, Russia’s Rosatom carried out the enrichment process at its Seversk site, but geopolitical strain caused by the war in Ukraine could lead to a revaluation of the contracts.

EDF’s fuel division has been developing a strategy for the management, recycling and reprocessing of used nuclear fuel assemblies to ensure energy independence and diversification of supply.

Cédric Lewandowski, senior executive vice-president of nuclear fuel and thermal at EDF, said: “A decade-long effort has been made to revive a uranium reprocessing sector, which was suspended in 2013 (and resumed in 2018) and has just reached a historic milestone.

“Reprocessing spent fuel to extract the energy-potential material (which constitutes 96% of the spent fuel’s mass composition), namely uranium, for its second use is a circular economy approach that will save 25% of natural resources in the coming decades. Moreover, this sector emits 30% less CO₂ than the natural uranium sector and reduces environmental impact,” he added.

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Lewandowski noted EDF’s goal was to be able to reuse RepU in 1.3GW reactors by 2027, aiming for more than 30% RepU usage in the French nuclear fleet by the 2030s.

Between 1994 and 2013, EDF used RepU in four Cruas reactors, allowing 4,000 tonnes of RepU to be recycled.