Orano commissions new conversion facility

21 December 2018

The new Philippe Coste uranium conversion plant at Orano's Tricastin site in southern France has now been commissioned following the completion of a test programme.

The Philippe Coste conversion facility (Image: Orano)

Orano said that during the testing programme the plant's process equipment was progressively started up so that the complete manufacturing line could be tried out. The major equipment of the industrial process - the flame reactor - was commissioned on 12 December.

The facility will now ramp up production over the coming months and the plant is expected to reach its rated output of 15,000 tonnes in 2021, once some additional equipment has been installed.

"This new plant incorporates technological innovations in terms of safety, the environment and improved industrial performance," Orano said. "By equipping the group with such a modern and efficient new facility, Orano strengthens its position in the conversion market."

The Philippe Coste conversion facility has been built as part of the Comurhex II project, which will see the construction of the new plant at Malvesi in the Narbonne region and at Tricastin in the Rhone valley. The new Tricastin plant has been named after the first founding president of Comurhex. Orano has invested more than EUR5.0 billion (USD5.7 billion) in the Tricastin site over the past decade.

Orano's predecessor Areva launched the Comurhex II project in 2007. The company said the project integrates technological innovations from research and development programmes with more than 40 years of experience from the existing Comurhex operations. The new facilities will also lead to major savings in terms of water and energy consumption, and reduced effluents.

A ceremony was held on 10 September to inaugurate the Philippe Coste plant, which was inaugurated by Delphine Geny-Stephann, France's secretary of state to the minister for the economy and finance.

Orano CEO Philippe Knoche said, "The Philippe Coste plant gives Orano a competitive advantage worldwide in the field of uranium conversion, guaranteeing long-term security of supply for our nuclear utility customers. I congratulate all the teams who have played a part in this success."

Before uranium can be manufactured into nuclear fuel, most reactors require it to be enriched - that is, the concentration of uranium-235 in the natural uranium has to be increased. Enrichment requires the uranium first to be converted into a gas, uranium hexafluoride (UF6). At a conversion facility, uranium is first refined to uranium dioxide (which can be used as the fuel for those types of reactors that do not require enriched uranium) and then converted into UF6, ready for the enrichment plant.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News