Orano launches new conversion facility

11 September 2018

A ceremony has been held to inaugurate the new Philippe Coste uranium conversion plant at Orano's Tricastin site in southern France.

Delphine Geny-Stephann cuts the ribbon at the new facility (Image: Orano)

The new facility was inaugurated yesterday by Delphine Geny-Stephann, France's secretary of state to the minister for the economy and finance, who was accompanied by Philippe Varin, chairman of the Orano Group Executive Board, and Philippe Knoche, CEO of Orano. The ceremony was attended by representatives from 60 international customers of Orano, as well as from French and European administrations, parliamentarians, elected officials and local stakeholders.

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 (USD5.8 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.

Orano said the Comurhex II project implemented at the Malvesi and Tricastin sites - representing a total investment outlay of EUR1.15 billion - is one which will "enable Orano to develop its position on the conversion market equipped with the most modern plant in the world".

The new Philippe Coste facility, Orano says, "incorporates technological innovations in terms of safety, the environment and improved industrial performance". The facility will recycle chemical reagents, reduces water consumption by as much as 90% and features extensive automation of instrumentation and control functions.

Varin said, "Orano is the first manufacturer to renew its conversion plants, and that is a decisive competitive advantage. This plant will be a symbol for French industry going forward, capable of building high technology facilities that are safe and respectful of the environment, and enabling our country to remain in the leading peloton of great industrial nations."

Knoche added, "With the Philippe Coste plant, the French nuclear sector has a brand new, modern, high-performance industrial facility. I would like to thank all the Orano teams as well as the partner companies. The successful completion of this project is testimony to their engagement and expertise. The Philippe Coste plant will contribute to the production of low-carbon electricity by our customers and for tens of millions of homes around the world."

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