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UK and France sign agreement over fast reactor technology

13 February 2014

The UK is borrowing heavily on French nuclear energy expertise, with the first third-generation nuclear power plant built in England likely to be EDF’s Hinkley Point C, designed around two Areva NP EPR reactors and scheduled to come on stream in the early 2020s. Britain has also committed to French technology for the fourth generation of nuclear reactors.

Artist's cutaway of ASTRID - Image: CEA
Artist's cutaway of ASTRID - Image: CEA

In early February the UK and French government agreed to deepen the scope of collaboration over the ASTRID fast reactor, with Britain’s National Nuclear Laboratory working closely with France’s CEA nuclear agency on this ambitious project. The agreement will focus mainly on fuel for the new type of reactor.

ASTRID is a sodium-cooled Fast Neutron Reactor (FNR) research design, and optimistic guesstimates hope it will be operational by 2020. FNRs offer the prospect of vastly more efficient use of uranium resources than in conventional power reactors. Other advantages include the ability to transform the most dangerous elements in high level nuclear waste, the actinides, into less radioactive elements, and the new design should have a much longer operational life than currently operational reactors.

ASTRID will be built at Marcoule in the Rhone valley, and will be the prototype for nuclear plants that should provide half of France's generation capacity by 2050.

According to a February 2010 study by Deloitte for the EU's Strategic Nuclear Energy Technology Platform, the 600 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor would cost EUR 4.286 billion, with most of the financing coming from European institution loans, EU incentives and grants such as the EC's European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative (ESNII), as well as EUR 839 million from private investors.

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