MOX in France: Reassessment as Foreign Customers Fade

Kingsley Burns

France is the world’s most prolific country in both the fabrication and use of mixed-oxide (MOX) plutonium-uranium fuel in light water nuclear reactors. It also is currently the only country commercially reprocessing civilian spent nuclear fuel. This chapter explores France’s historical experience with MOX, the current status of these activities, and future plans. It focuses on safety and security concerns, economic considerations, and waste management. Field interviews were conducted in France in 2018 with current and former officials of the company that fabricates MOX fuel (Orano), the atomic energy commission (CEA), the domestic utility (EDF), and independent nuclear experts. MOX fuel has been a technological success, achieving parity with traditional low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel in burnup and performance. However, MOX does not appear economically competitive with LEU. Perpetuation of the program is driven instead by lack of disposal options for spent LEU fuel besides reprocessing, which creates separated plutonium that must be recycled as MOX. Sharp drops in foreign demand for French reprocessing and MOX fabrication since 2000 have created excess capacity, and EDF is now the only major customer for these services. Accordingly, the French government is reassessing the future of the nuclear fuel cycle and conducting a pilot program for a deep geological repository that could obviate future reprocessing.