The treatment of used nuclear fuel is a long production cycle which lasts about 10 years. It begins when the used fuel is removed from the nuclear reactors where it produced power. The fuel is then packaged in “casks”, which are steel containers
weighing 110 metric tons (for 10 metric tons of materials), so that it can be safely shipped. Then it is ready to be shipped to the Orano la Hague site, some 25 kilometers from Cherbourg in the MancheDepartment, where it will be treated. And so begins
a great adventure…
Upon arrival at the la Hague site, the fuel is removed from the cask. This intricate operation is performed completely remotely using specialized robots and remote manipulators.
After this first bath, the fuel is cut up into small pieces for its second bath in a nitric acid solution to dissolve its nuclear material. The recyclable material is separated from the non-recyclable material and waste in a chemical facility.
At the end of these operations, 96% of the material can be recycled. Of this, 95% is uranium and 1% is plutonium.
The remaining 4% consist of fission products, also called final waste.
The uranium and plutonium are separated in turn for treatment in a series of complex chemical operations. The uranium will become uranyl nitrate and the plutonium will be converted into plutonium oxide. The latter will be used to produce fresh fuel called
MOX – mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium – to reduce our natural uranium requirements by 25%. Meanwhile, the uranium is held as a strategic inventory pending re-enrichment.
This waste cannot be reduced further; it is calcined and mixed with glass, then melted and poured into stainless steel canisters, offering safe and stable immobilization for several tens of thousands of years.
If the waste comes from French reactors, it is stored at the Orano la Hague site in buildings constructed for that purpose pending transfer to the final disposal facility to be built under the Cigéo Project.
If it comes from abroad, it is returned to the country of origin, as required by French law.
34,000 metric tons of used fuel treated since the site's creation.
4,000 Orano employees + 1,000 subcrontrator personnel
EDF, the world’s leading nuclear operator, ships the used fuel from its 58 reactors in France to Orano la Hague, making it the site’s largest customer. At the same time, la Hague has treated fuel from far away, and sometimes from very far away places such as Australia, for more than 40 years. La Hague has customers on 5 continents, with most of its business concentrated in Western Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands) and in Asia (China and Japan).
Orano la Hague also provides safe radioactive materials transportation via its subsidiary Orano TN. The final waste is returned to its country of origin after treatment. These operations are certified under the ISO 14001 environmental standard and the ISO 9002 quality management standard.
technologies developed and managed by Orano la Hague are an inspiration
to a number of foreign countries. A number of visits organized to
discover the know-how deployed at the site, and some 3,000 visitors were
received in our facilities in 2016.
The Orano la Hague site is the global benchmark for the construction of other recycling centers around the world.
The used fuel treatment plant at the Rokkasho-Mura site in Japan is the fruit of technology transfer from Orano. It is scheduled to enter service soon. China, which is building the world’s leading nuclear power program, has also opted to build used fuel treatment facilities suited to its domestic requirements. It might choose Orano’s technology perfected at the la Hague site for its future treatment plant.
Vitrification by induction in a cold crucible consists of heating the glass that separates the liner from the glass containing the final waste, rather than the liner itself. The walls of the crucible are cooled with a system of circulating water.
By staying cool, the crucible is protected from the very high temperatures and corrosion, multiplying its service life by ten! Moreover, the vitrification throughput rates are increased with this innovation, and legacy fission products can be processed.
Cold crucible induction vitrification:
• 25 years of research and development
• 2010, the first year of service
• More than 1,000 canisters of vitrified waste produced
La Hague, an intensively monitored site:
Due to the nature of its operations and the volumes of fuel treated, the la Hague site, where 5,000 people work, is intensively monitored at all times.
Safety is an integral component of all of Orano la Hague’s processes:
Reducing the risks of a nuclear accident and ensuring the safety of employees and of infrastructure are constant concerns for the Orano la Hague site. The measures taken are part of a continuous improvement initiative that has been carried out for several years. Every year, site personnel participate in emergency drills to raise awareness of the risks and to be ready to cope with critical situations.
The Site and Materials Protection Brigade includes response personnel trained in the site’s specific hazards (fire, chemical or radioactive leaks, etc.). The human and equipment response resources are equivalent to those of a city of 30,000 inhabitants! In addition, the Orano la Hague site is monitored by the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), which regularly performs inspections.
Ensuring that operations have no impact on the environment is another of Orano la Hague’s priorities. Every day, dozens of samples are taken from the environment and analyzed to verify that the radioactivity of the products treated at the site remains under control. The results of these measurements indicate that the radioactivity from the operations of Orano la Hague is below the natural radioactivity of the region.
Based in Normandy for 50 years, the Orano la Hague site is the global benchmark in used nuclear fuel treatment and recycling. The group is the leading employer in the Cotentin Peninsula, with nearly 4,800 employees of varying backgrounds, whether in nuclear safety, engineering, facility operations, mechanical.
Orano’s presence in the Cotentin Peninsula is led by several entities with a total of approximately 4,800 employees (under open-ended or fixed-term contracts).
La Hague’s treatment and recycling operations are part of a commitment between Orano and EDF until 2040. The volumes involved are defined in specific agreements. The most recent agreement, signed in 2015, gives the site renewed visibility and workload, with annual production of 1,100 metric tons until 2022 and an unprecedented level of investment.
Considerable capital expenditure has been committed to ensuring the safety and long-term operation of the facilities in recycling as well as in dismantling.
1.6 billion euros in capital expenditure over an eight-year period, i.e. approximately 200 million euros per year.
Orano la Hague has received the Excellence Award from the Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance.
In 2016, Orano launched a revitalization plan in the Manche area which provides guaranteed loans and supplies skills to eligible companies.
The revitalization plan has a budget of 507,000 euros which will be injected into the local economy to create jobs over a period of three years.
Through all of these programs, Orano plans to remain an important economic player in Normandy and to take positive action for the future through forward-looking investments in the region.