Monday, June 20, 2005

Fénix Rises

A long while ago, I did a nuclear energy roundup describing France's Superfénix breeder reactor, which looked dead as the proverbial nuclear doornail. Not so fast. According to this briefing paper at Melbourne, Australia's Uranium Information Centre, the U.S. is contracting with France to perform research on actinide irradiation and conversion:
There have been two significant fast breeder reactors in France. Near Marcoule is the 233 MWe Phenix reactor, which started operation in 1974. It was shut down for modification 1998-2003 and is expected to run for a further few years. A second unit was Super-Phenix of 1200 MWe, which started up in 1996 but was closed down for political reasons at the end of 1998 and is now being decommissioned. The operation of Phenix is fundamental to France's research on waste disposal, particularly transmutation of actinides.

In 2004 the US energy secretary signed an agreement with the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) to gain access to the Phenix experimental fast neutron reactor for research on nuclear fuels. The US Department of Energy acknowledged that this fast neutron "capability no longer exists in the USA". The US research with Phenix will irradiate fuel loaded with various actinides under constant conditions to help identify what kind of fuel might be best for possible future waste transmutation systems.

There's a whole lot more at the UIC, including a wide array of other briefing papers. Some of the more interesting ones include uranium supply, the nuclear fuel cycle, and advanced reactor designs.

Update: GRLCowan in the comments notes the title is incorrect; it's not the Superfénix that's being used here, it's just the plain old Fénix. Oops.