France Considers Boosting Uranium Enrichment Capacity To Cut Reliance On Russia

France is considering increasing its capacity for uranium enrichment as the Western allies look to reduce their reliance on Russian nuclear power plant fuel.

French state-held uranium conversion and enrichment specialist Orano SA is reviewing options to boost the capacity at its Georges Besse II plant to 11 million separative work units (SWU) from 7.5 million SWU now, a statement from France’s public debate committee says.

SWU is the standard measure of the effort required to separate isotopes of uranium (U235 and U238) during an enrichment process in nuclear facilities. 

France says it wants to boost the capacity for uranium enrichment due to the sanctions imposed by the West over the Russian invasion of Ukraine that could lead to a shortage of nuclear fuel. 

Commenting on Orano’s plans, Christophe Neugnot, head of communications at the company, told Bloomberg, “We’re working on various scenarios, including the extension of our Georges Besse II plant, which would be the fastest option, but also on building that extra capacity in the US.”

Orano will need commitments from customers so that its board of directors can make a final investment decision next year. This will allow the first part of the Georges Besse II plant extension to be commissioned around 2028, Neugnot told Bloomberg.

Many governments in the West, including France, the United States, and the UK, have doubled down on nuclear power generation after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which made natural gas in Europe too expensive.

In France, nuclear power generation accounts for around 70 percent of the electricity mix. When its reactors are fully operational, France is a net exporter of electricity to other European countries. Prolonged maintenance at several nuclear reactors this year, however, means that France—and the rest of Europe—have less nuclear-generated power supply now. France has had issues with its nuclear power generation in recent months, which has reduced the available electricity supply in France and Europe and sent French power prices for next year surging.

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