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Tricastin site: the Georges Besse II enrichment plant

The Georges Besse II plant uses a new uranium enrichment process: centrifugation. With this technology, Georges Besse II offers the best guarantees in terms of competitiveness, energy conservation, technical reliability and environmental impact reduction. Deployed in two units at the Tricastin site, the South Unit and the North Unit, Georges Besse II plant began producing its first commercial separative work units (SWU) in 2011.

Société d’Enrichissement du Tricastin (SET) operates the plant, replacing Eurodif's Georges Besse plant, in operation at the Tricastin site since 1978.  The Georges Besse plant had enriched uranium by gaseous diffusion.

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Centrifugation, a strategic choice

Two enrichment processes are currently used on an industrial scale:

Centrifuge cascade

Centrifuge cascade - © AREVA

• Gaseous diffusion, which was used by AREVA at the Georges Besse plant until June 2012 and by the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) in the United States.

• Centrifugation, used by Urenco in Western Europe (the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands), by Rosatom in Russia, by CNNC in China, by JNFL in Japan, and by AREVA at the Georges Besse II plant and, in the future, at its Eagle Rock plant in the United States.

Four major competitors control more than 95% of the world’s total installed uranium enrichment production capacity. AREVA supplies nearly one fourth of the world’s enrichment services.

Uranium enrichment is a strategic business for the AREVA group, the only player in the world to cover the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Competitiveness, energy conservation, technical reliability and low environmental impact… all these advantages make the centrifugation process perform better than the gaseous diffusion process.

As in the past, AREVA guarantees continuous deliveries over the very long term to its customers.

This position is further strengthened by the Group’s 2007 decision to build the Eagle Rock enrichment plant in the United States.

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Georges Besse II, a unique project

With a total cost of 3 billion euros, the Georges Besse II plant is one of the largest French industrial investments of the decade. With this project, AREVA reinforces its position as a major player in the international enrichment market. Georges Besse II is also contributing to the socio-economic sustainability of the Tricastin site.

Location

The Georges Besse II plant is based at the Tricastin nuclear site, which straddles the Drôme and Vaucluse departments of France. The South Unit is located in the town of Bollène, while the North Unit is in the town of Pierrelatte.

The nuclear industry has been present at this industrial complex, unique in Europe, since 1960. The complex brings together several fuel cycle businesses:

uranium conversion, uranium enrichment, defluorination and fuel fabrication by AREVA;
electricity production, thanks to the nuclear power plant of Tricastin, by EDF. 

A modular design

The plant’s modular design is conducive to commissioning in phases.
The first centrifuge cascade at the South Unit started up in late 2009, confirming the plant's operational readiness. The first commercial SWU production at the Georges Besse II plant began in April 2011.

With the modularity of the process, several cascades can be commissioned each month until the full production capacity of 7.5 million SWUs is reached in 2016, with the possibility of extending capacity to meet market demand.

Each Georges Besse II enrichment unit consists of several components of infrastructure:

3D view of the Georges Besse II plant

3D view of the Georges Besse II plant - © AREVA, Image & Process

  • the Centrifuge Assembly Building (CAB);
  • the Centrifuge Utility Building (CUB) housing the control room and offices;
  • the “annexes” housing the uranium hexafluoride (UF6) purification, feed and draw-off functions;
  • the modules constituting the combination all centrifuge cascades.

The major players

Société d’Enrichissement du Tricastin (SET) operates the Georges Besse II plant using the centrifugation technology developed by ETC (Enrichment Technology Company), which licenses the process and supplies the centrifuges constituting the plant’s production equipment.

When the plant is fully operational in 2016, SET will have a workforce of 450 employees.

AREVA is the majority owner of SET.

Following the acquisition of equity positions by the GDF Suez group (5% in 2008), the Japanese utility Kansai (2.5% in 2009 with Sojitz) and the South Korean utility Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. Ltd (KHNP, 2.5% in 2009), new partnership agreements were signed in 2010 with the Japanese utilities Kyushu Electric Power (1%) and Tohoku Electric Power (1%).

The agreements, representing a total of 12% of the share capital, reflect utility customers’ interest in participating in this major project and in securing their enriched uranium supplies.

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Georges Besse II and the Group’s values

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© AREVA, Nicolas Petitot

The Georges Besse II project is completely led in accordance with the Group’s values in every respect.

The construction and operation of Georges Besse II plant are part of an initiative for sustainable and proactive continuous improvement, community involvement, dialogue with external stakeholders and, of course, environmental protection.

Protecting the local environment

Environmental protection is integral to the Georges Besse II plant with, among other things, a modular design and an innovative process.
The potential environmental impacts of plant construction were identified and assessed during the design phase:

  • The plant’s modular design and 10-year construction schedule limit the size of the construction site, thereby reducing the impacts on the surrounding community and on the environment.
     
  • Georges Besse II plant is half as high as the current enrichment plant of EURODIF Production and produces no noise, and is thus easily integrated into the landscape and the environment.
     
  • Centrifugation consumes 50 times less electricity than gaseous diffusion and does not tap water from the Rhone River for cooling purposes.
     
  • The characteristics of the centrifugation process further enhance the plant’s safety performance. All risks, including those inherent in earthquakes, flooding, airplane crashes, fires and explosions, were addressed in accordance with the technical requirements of the ASN. These safety and reliability levels were reaffirmed during the Supplementary Safety Assessments carried out in 2011 following the Fukushima accident.

Informing the public

With dialogue and consensus building as its dominant theme, the project was presented to the public on numerous occasions:

• a public debate (September-October 2004): eight public meetings were held in the Drome, Gard, Vaucluse and Ardeche departments under the oversight of an independent Steering Commission for Public Debate (Commission de pilotage du débat public, CPDP);

• three public inquiries were conducted in 2006, 2008 and 2009;

• the Tricastin local information commission of Tricastin (CLIGEET) met regularly.

The project is also a showcase for the Tricastin site, drawing many visits by customers and external stakeholders, both French and foreign.

Getting involved in the community

Siting the Georges Besse II plant at Tricastin contributes to the successful integration and continuation of an economic activity present locally for more than 40 years. AREVA is attentive to the fact that the local companies participate in the construction of this plant and can benefit from economic blowdowns. Numerous local and regional companies won, during calls for tender, about 60% of contracts concerning the construction of the first unit of the Georges Besse II plant.

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Progress report on the project

In all, construction of the Georges Besse II plant will last about 10 years, involving an average of 500 people per unit.

Commissioning of the South Unit

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© AREVA, Nicolas Petitot

Inaugurated in December 2010 before a hundred customers from 14 countries and numerous external stakeholders, Georges Besse II plant met a decisive milestone in the first half of 2011 with the commissioning of the first centrifuge cascade in the South Unit and the production of the first commercial SWUs.

Ramp-up of the North Unit project

Civil engineering work on unit began in March 2009 in the northern part of the Tricastin site. The work is now completely finished. The Centrifuge Assembly Building for unit 2 was completed in September 2010.

The North Unit would then enter production at the first quarter of 2013, subject to the “first hold point” being lifted in the last quarter of 2012, in a process similar to that used for the South Unit.

Work on the other two sections (2 and 3) of the North Unit continues according to the original schedule.

The REC II* facility will be commissioned in mid-2013 after completion of the ASN licensing process and final testing.


*REC II is the name of the support facility for the Georges Besse II enrichment plant. The principal functions of this facility are quality control and uranium transfer in cylinders meeting customer requirements.

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History of the project

Project schedule

2003

  • November 24: signature of an industrial agreement between AREVA and Urenco. To take effect, the agreement of November 24, 2003 was subject to two conditions precedent:
    - The first one was lifted on October 6, 2004 when the European Commission ruled that competition between AREVA and Urenco in the enrichment market was not jeopardized.
    - The second one was lifted on July 3, 2006, following a diplomatic process: the Cardiff Treaty between France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany.

2006

  • January: start of construction of the South Unit
  • June 12 – July 21: public inquiries related to the Georges Besse II project.
  • July 3: industrial agreement of November 24, 2003 takes effect and AREVA becomes a 50% shareholder of ETC. AREVA and Urenco continue to compete for the sale of enrichment services. ETC is the sole owner of the centrifugation technology and makes it available to its customers, including AREVA.
  • September: start of civil engineering for the South Unit.

2007

  • April: granting of the license decree to build the Georges Besse II regulated nuclear facility / End of civil engineering work on the first section of the South Unit (CAB, CUB and first module).

2008

  • February 15: Centrifuge Assembly Building (CAB) of the South Unit turned over to ETC.
  • June: GDF Suez becomes a shareholder of the holding company of Société d’Enrichissement du Tricastin (SET).
  • Summer: the first centrifuges are successfully assembled and tested with UF6.
  • December: start of the public inquiry related to the modification of the license decree authorizing the creation of the Georges Besse II regulated nuclear facility.

2009

  • March: start of civil engineering work on the North Unit and centrifuge installation in the first module of the South Unit / Kansai and Sojitz of Japan become shareholders of the holding company of Société d’Enrichissement du Tricastin (SET).
  • May: end of installation of the first cascade in the South Unit.
  • June: South Korean utility Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. Ltd (KHNP) becomes a 2.5% shareholder of the holding company of Société d'Enrichissement du Tricastin (SET).
  • November: spin-up of the first cascade in the South Unit.

2010

  • Commissioning of the South Unit by the prime contractor, SGN, and turnover to Société d’Enrichissement du Tricastin.
  • August: turnover of the CUB building of the South Unit, which houses the control room.
  • September: turnover of the Centrifuge Assembly Building (CAB) of the North Unit and of the first cascade.
  • November: Kyushu Electric Power and Tohoku Electric Power of Japan each become 1% shareholders of the holding company of SET.

2011

  • Spin-up of the first cascade in the North Unit and first commercial SWU production.

The first quarter of 2013

  • Commissioning of the North Unit.

2016

  • Objective: nominal production capacity of the Georges Besse II plant (7.5 million SWU).