French nuclear group Orano inaugurated a 1.15 billion euro ($1.33 billion) uranium conversion plant despite huge global overcapacity for nuclear reactor fuel. State-owned Orano’s new plant in Tricastin, southern France, will account for a quarter of the world’s 60,000-tonne annual uranium hexafluoride (UF6) production capacity when it fully ramps up in 2021 and is set to have the industry’s lowest costs, the company said.
UF6, produced by combining “yellowcake” uranium ore concentrate with fluorine, is a precursor of enriched uranium, which fuels the world’s nuclear plants.
Following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, uranium prices are near decade lows as several countries reduced their reliance on nuclear energy.
In November 2017, Honeywell International Inc suspended UF6 production at its 15,000-tonne capacity Metropolis, Illinois plant, the only such conversion plant in the United States.
Orano Chief Executive Philippe Knoche told reporters that the new plant’s order book was full for the next 10 years, but added that profitability would remain challenging at current conversion rates.
The uranium will come from Areva and other companies’ mines in Niger, Kazakhstan, Canada, South Africa and Namibia