Uranium, the raw material extracted from the mine, cannot be used directly in its original state. In order to become a nuclear fuel suitable for use in power plants to generate electricity, it must be transformed. The purpose of the Orano Malvési plant is to receive the uranium ore concentrates, to chemically purify them and to carry out the first stage of the conversion process.
The Orano Malvési plant, in France's Aude department, handles the first phase of uranium conversion, which consists in purifying the natural uranium ore supplied by the mines, and thereby to produce uranium tetrafluoride (UF4). The degree of purification achieved by the Orano process at Malvési is such that it can treat any type of uranium ore, whatever its origin. The second transformation stage, which completes the conversion to uranium hexafluoride (UF6), is carried out at the Orano Tricastin site in the southern Rhône valley of southeastern France (Drôme department).
Through these chemical transformation operations, four fluorine atoms are added to each uranium atom. The industrial process used to do this employ chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid, nitric acid, and ammonia. The conversion operations are designed give the natural uranium concentrates, arriving from the mines, the degree of purity necessary for the fabrication of nuclear fuel.
The modernization of the site's industrial plant in recent years, replacing the original installations, has made it possible to incorporate the latest improvements and innovations resulting from Orano's research and development programs.
Since 2007, Orano has been investing in the Tricastin and Malvési sites to upgrade production capacity. A total of 300 million euros has been invested at Malvési through the COMURHEX II project to completely renew and modernize its industrial facilities. The site has seen the construction of 3 new process areas to replace original facilities, as well as the revamping of other existing facilities.
Major priorities for the design of the new industrial assets were to achieve the highest level of safety and to reduce the environmental footprint. Accordingly, they incorporate the very latest improvements and innovations resulting from the Orano group's research and development programs.
The implementation of new processes through the technological innovations deployed allows for a significant reduction in the site's environmental footprint. These developments also make it possible to recycle 50% of the nitric acid used and reduce ammonia consumption by 75%. In addition, with the new technologies used for the COMURHEX II program, withdrawals of water from the natural environment can be reduced by a factor of 10, with the implementation of a closed-loop cooling system for the facilities.
A policy of preventive and corrective maintenance, incorporating feedback from other industrial sites, guarantees the highest level of safety and security.
In addition to our internal controls, the regulatory authorities carry out periodic inspections.