Initiated in 2006, ASTRID (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration) was a research project for a 600 Megawatt Generation IV fast-neutron reactor. The ambition was two-fold: the safe production of high-quality electricity, and the reuse of radioactive materials currently being stored as “waste”: plutonium and depleted uranium.
On 30 August, the newspaper Le Monde reported that the French nuclear agency CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique) announced that it was suspending the project, in which France had invested over 700 million euros. The CEA now considers ASTRID as “a long-term project, for the second half of this century.”
Fast-neutron reactors can reduce the total radiotoxicity of nuclear waste by using most of the waste as fuel. The radioactive lifetime of the remaining waste is reduced. Fast-neutron reactors can be configured as “breeder” reactors, producing more fuel than they consume. Generation IV also provide enhanced safety comparable to Generation III reactors such as the EPR.
However, uranium prices have been declining, which undermines the economic rationale for fast-breeder technology.
But experts who back nuclear energy for its importance as a clean substitute for fossil fuels, deplore the decision.
Russia has two sodium-cooled breeder reactors in operation. India, Japan, China, South Korea and Russia are all committing substantial research funds to further development of fast breeder reactors.
It is sad to see French expertise deteriorating. It will be very difficult to recreate a generation of workers with the needed skills.