France returns metallic reprocessing waste

14 October 2009

Shipments of compacted metallic waste resulting from the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel have been sent by rail from France back to Switzerland and the Netherlands for storage.


The metal came from the zirconium alloy tubes that formed the structure of nuclear fuel assemblies. During reprocessing, the rods are sheared into 35-mm lengths and dissolved in nitric acid so that powdered uranium, plutonium and fission products can be chemically extracted and recycled. The shards of metal, known as hulls and ends' are removed from the acid, before being rinsed, packed and compacted along with certain other technological waste. Ultimately the metal leftovers end up in metal canisters similar to those that hold vitrified high-level radioactive waste.


The return of the metallic waste to the country of origin of the used fuel is dictated under French law.


Two casks containing compacted metallic waste were shipped from TN International's rail terminal in Valognes, close to the La Hague reprocessing plant, to Switzerland on 12 October. The waste will be delivered to the Zwilag radioactive waste interim storage facility near Würenlingen in northeast of Switzerland.


The shipment marks the first compacted metallic waste to be returned to Switzerland under contracts with Areva to reprocess its used fuel. The first shipment took place in mid-June. The contract was for the reprocessing of used fuel from the Gösgen nuclear power plant.


In mid-June and early this month casks of compacted metallic waste were shipped from the Valognes rail terminal to the Central Organization for Radioactive Waste (Covra) storage facility in the Zeeland region of the Netherlands. The waste - the second such operation from France to the Netherlands - resulted from the reprocessing of used fuel from the Borssele nuclear power plant.


Besides France, Areva's main customers for its reprocessing business are Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands. Each of these countries will be required to take back all wastes resulting from the reprocessing of their used nuclear fuel.