Paris – Say the word “nuclear” and the first question that comes to many people is, “what about the waste?”
French state-owned nuclear company Areva has for years pushed for the recycling of spent nuclear fuel to ensure less waste is stored and to provide security in the supply of nuclear fuel. It has used this process since 1974 and has treated 32 000 tonnes of spent fuel.
A visit to Areva's La Hague nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Normandy on Tuesday gave an impressive overview of an operation spanning 300 hectares, with an average of €200m invested every year.
Recycling reuses the energy still contained in used fuel, which avoids consuming up to 25% of natural uranium resources to produce new fuel. The recycling process manages to reuse 94% of the spent fuel in the form of uranium and plutonium.
The final remnants of waste are mixed into a glass matrix form, hardened in a metal casing and sent back to the country of origin to store.
In 2015, it processed 21 520 tonnes of French nuclear waste, 5 482t of German waste and 2 944t of Japanese waste.
In South Africa’s 9 600 MW nuclear build programme, Areva will propose that South Africa use this process to drive down the volume of waste and increase the life cycle of uranium.
The cost of this process, which appears more expensive than the traditional form of creating nuclear fuel, is unknown. But Areva officials told South African media that the price would have to be competitive for companies to use this process.
They also said it would create fuel security as companies would need to rely less on uranium in the overall process.
WATCH: Fin24's Matthew le Cordeur speaks to Areva'sFrédéric Martinet about the waste programme.
* Fin24 is a guest of the French government. France's Areva is one of the bidders for SA's proposed nuclear build programme.