United States continues to supply weapon-grade HEU for French reactor

U.S. Department of Energy filed a request with NRC for a license to export 130 kg of highly-enriched uranium ("121.16 kg of U-235 contained in maximum of 130 kg uranium, enriched to maximum of 93.20 weight %") to France. The material will be used to manufacture fuel for the High Flux Reactor (Réacteur à Haut Flux, RHF) at the Institut Max von Laue-Paul Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble. The license application XSNM3819 is dated 18 September 2020.

This would be the third batch of HEU supplied by the United States to the High Flux Reactor in recent years. The United States supplied HEU to France until 1991. In the 1990s France switched to Russian HEU, partly because the United States insisted on a commitment to convert the reactor to LEU fuel. Under an agreement signed in 1996, Russia supplied 620 kg of HEU to France for two reactors, Orphée and RHF. These shipments were completed in 2006.

Previous license, XSNM6333, to export 186.4 kg of 93.35% HEU (174 kg of U-235), was requested in March 2010 and granted in March 2012. The shipment of the material was completed in 2012 and the NNSA spokesman said at the time that it was expected to be the last shipment as the DoE was working with the ILL to convert the reactor to LEU fuel.

The conversion efforts apparently stalled and the United States agreed to send another 130 kg of 93.2% HEU (121.1 kg U-235) to France for the RHF reactor. The license XSNM3757 was issued in October 2016.

The current license application suggests that the shipment of material will be completed by the end of 2023.

France does not use for civilian purposes the HEU from its military stock, estimated to be about 25 tonnes. In its most recent annual INFCIRC/549 report France reported having 3836 kg of unirradiated civilian HEU as of 31 December 2019.