France to produce tritium for nuclear weapons in EDF civilian nuclear reactors

During a visit to the Civaux nuclear power plant on 18 March 2024, France's Minister of the Armed Forces unveiled a plan to use the plant to produce tritium for the French nuclear weapons program. Civaux is a civilian power plant that belongs to and is operated by Electricité de France. According to the report, the nuclear regulator, l'Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, is expected to issue an approval in September 2024. The first test assemblies will be loaded in the reactor during a scheduled refueling in 2025.

Until now, France has been producing tritium in reactors of the CEA (Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, Atomic Energy Commission). The practice of producing tritium in power reactors has been used by the United States, where lithium targets are irradiated in the reactors of the Tennessee Valley Authority. It should be noted that according to the US policy, reactors that produce tritium cannot use uranium enriched at civilian facilities. Uranium for the reactors involved in tritium production is obtained by down-blending excess military HEU.

This is not the first time France has used a civilian nuclear reactor for the weapons program. France used its Phénix breeder reactor for producing plutonium for the nuclear-weapon program (see "Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status", p. 25)