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Superphénix (English: Superphoenix ) SPX was a nuclear power station prototype on the Rhone River at Creys-Malville in France, close to the border with Switzerland. Superphénix was a 1,242 MWe fast breeder reactor with the twin goals of reprocessing nuclear fuel from France’s line of nuclear reactors, while also being an economic generator of power on its own.

Construction began in 1974 but suffered from a series of overruns, delays, and larger public protests. Construction was complete in 1981, but the operation was not connected to the grid until December 1986. In operation, Superphenix has been shown to be very poor and has a historical capacity factor less than 7%, [1] . Many of these problems were solved over time, and by 1996 the prototype was reaching its design operational goals.

The plant was powered up in December 1996 for maintenance, and while it was closed In June 1997, the newly elected Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, announced that Superphenix would be closed permanently; this was made official by ministerial decree in December 1998.



France had considered the problem of plutonium production just after the end of World War II . At the time, the conventional method has been used to reduce the temperature of the natural gas . Such designs have little economic value in terms of production, but are simple solutions to the problem of “breeding” plutonium fuel, which can then be separated from the original uranium fuel with chemical processing.

HOWEVER, It Had Known That long beens Reviews another solution to the breeder reactor design Was to replace the graphite with liquid sodium metal. The graphite is used as a moderator, slowing the neutrons released in the nuclear reactions to a speed that makes other uranium atoms sensitive to them. However, if one replaces the natural uranium fuel with one sensitive to fast neutrons , typically highly enriched uranium or plutonium gold , the reaction can run without the use of a moderator.

While this design eliminates the need for a moderator, the core still needs to be cooled. Ideally the coolant would be highly efficient, allowing the core size to be reduced, as well as being largely transparent to neutrons. The most studied example of such a material is liquid sodium , and other metals have been used.

This not only greatly reduces the size of the reactor, but the fast neutrons are capable of causing multiple breeding reactions. By surrounding the core with additional fertile material such as natural uranium , or even nuclear waste from other reactors, the breeding reaction will take place in a larger volume and otherwise useless materials. This section is known as the blanket . Such a design is also more important than it consumes, as long as the breeding ratio is greater than 1.

Such a design has three major advantages over the conventional military designs; the whole reaction is much faster, it can be used as a whole, and it can be used in a wide variety of ways, it can be used to efficiently produce power. The downside is that it has been enriched with fuel oil, but the fissile material can be used in the blanket.

Earlier work and Phoenix

Main article: Phoenix

Plans for a fast reactor date as far back as 1958’s Rapsody , and then up in 1964 for a larger design with a power output of 1 GWe. Construction of the Rapsodie facility began in 1962 and went critical on 28 January 1967. It did not have power production systems, but its 22 MW of thermal output (MWth) would translate to 9 MW of electrical output (MWe). Core configurations we Experiments Were the carried out in the Masurca facility starting in 1966 and design of a larger power-producing facility Was already well Underway. [2]

During the 1960s, interest in nuclear power was reaching a crescendo. For France, with small uranium supply of their own, a large scale generation would be subject to supply constraints. In France’s plans breeders Would serve the twin Purposes of Producing fuel for Their conventional light water reactor fleet, as well as Producing That oil from the waste oil from Those reactors, thereby Reducing the amount of nuclear wastethey would have to dispose of. Only a small number of breeders, estimated to be around 20, would be required to fuel the fleet of about 200 light water reactors.

France began construction of the Phoenix demonstration in November 1968, only a year after Rapsodie went critical. It was fueled with 931 kg of highly enriched plutonium, around 77% Pu-239. The fuel load is capable of running for about 90 days maximum, but in practice it usually runs for two month periods. Due to its design, refueling required the reactor to be shut down. As a result, it had a low capacity factor (CF), on the order of 65%. [3] As a prototype plant, a high-level CF was not a design goal, but any practical design would have to improve this. [4] Phenix demonstrated a breeding ratio of 1.16, [5] it is produced by 233 MWe in normal operation.

Phenix ran without problems through the 1970s and ’80s, but in the early 1990s it began to demonstrate a number of unexplained behaviors, including large power transients. This had serious safety implications, and the reactor was more often than not, and most of the time was spent while offline. The long offline period required to be recertified, so the plant also underwent a significant refurbishment between 1994 and 2002. It was finally rectified in June 2003, but only at a reduced power of 130 MWe. [3]


A cut-away model of the Superphenix containment. From the National Atomic Museum , United State

In 1971 and 1972, France, Germany and Italy signed agreements for the joint construction of full-scale breeders, one in France and one in Germany. [6] The 1973 oil crisis made the issue of fuel security of significant importance. As part of the Messmer Plan, France was in the process of becoming a leader in nuclear power. [7] New priority was given to a follow-on breeder design with the goal of continuous operation, high CF, and economic operation even as a stand-alone reactor. This became the Superphénix design. [4]

A public inquiry was held over an “excessively short” period from 9 October to 8 November 1974. [3] This led to almost immediate opposition. In November, a group of 80 physicists from the Lyon Physics Institute wrote about the risks of breeder technology, and in February 1975, about 400 scientists signed their name to an expanded letter. On the other side of the argument, Andre Giraud, head of the French Nuclear Commission (CEA), said that they should carry on with the buildout, which would have “catastrophic consequences on the uranium savings that are expected.” [6]In spite of opposition, Superphénix construction was pushed ahead in 1976, although this was not done until the next year, when initial construction was already underway. [6]


Design work began in 1968, the same year as construction for the smaller-scale LMFBR Phenix , following the abandonment of the graphite-gas designs. The fast breeder was chosen in the face of fears of disruption to the supply of other fuels; the ” plutonium economy” viable Seemed if oil prices stayed high and uranium supplies dwindled. Construction was approved in 1972 and lasted from 1974 to 1981, but power production did not begin until 1985. Costs rose rapidly during construction. The plant Was run by the consortium NERSA , 51% owned by EDF , 33% by Enel and 16% by SBK (Schnell Brüter Kernkraftwerkgesellschaft).


The construction evoked much public protest. For example, by 60,000 protestors, which included the anarchist group of the anarchist federation , [8] resulted in the protestors’ use of molotov cocktails . [9] [10] This July 1977 protest was finally broken up by the CRS with the death of Vital Michalon and over a hundred serious injuries, with the police using truncheons and firing tear gas grenades to disperse the protesters. [11] [12]

Rocket attack

Against a background of ongoing protest and low-level sabotage, on the night of January 18, 1982 an RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade attack was launched against the unfinished plant. Five rockets were fired across the Rhône at the incomplete containment building . Two rockets hit and cause minor damage to the reinforced concrete shell, missing the reactor’s empty core . Initially there were no claims of responsibility. [13]

On May 8, 2003, Chaim Nissim , who in 1985 was elected to the Geneva cantonal government for the Swiss Green Party , admitted carrying out the attack. He Claimed que la weapons Were Obtained from Carlos the Jackal via the Belgian terrorist organization Cells Combattantes Communists (Communist Combatant Cells). [14]


Designed electrical power output was 1.20 GW , so year to date it’s from zero to 33%. As time passed, the problems of the liquid sodium cooling system of corrosion and leaks. These problems were eventually fixed and in December 1996 the power reached 90% of the nominal power. [15]

In December 1990 structural damage occurred at the turbine hall , following heavy snowfall . Power production did not resume until the Directorate of Nuclear Installations Safety approved it in 1992. [16]

The production was connected to EDF grid in 14 January 1986 and produced 4,300 GWh of electricity, worth about a billion 1995 Franc, during 10 months of operation, up until 1994. In 1996 it produced 3,400 GWh, worth about 850 million Francs, during 8 months of operation. [15]

In September 1998, the plant was closed. Two incidents in the year had culminated in a third, which triggered an automatic shutdown.

During 11 years, the plant had 53 months of normal operations (mostly at low power), 25 months of repairing technical problems of the prototype, and 66 months spent on political and administrative issues. [15]


Superphénix had been a focus of many groups opposed to nuclear power, including the green party The Greens , since its planning and construction. A national network called Nuclear exit was formed, bringing together hundreds of organizations: local committees, ecological associations, citizen movements and parties.

Power production was halted in December 1996 for maintenance. HOWEVER, Following a court case led by Opponents of the reactor, on February 28, 1997 the Council of State (State Supreme Administrative Court) Ruled That a decree in 1994, Authorizing the restart of Superphénix Was invalid. In June 1997, one of the first actions of Lionel Jospin became the Minister of Agriculture because of its excessive costs. As Jospin ‘s government included Green ministers, pro – nuclear critics arguing that Jospin’ s decision was motivated by political motives.

Superphénix was the last fast breeder operating in Europe for electricity production. According to a 1996 report by the French Accounting Office, the total expenditure on the reactor was estimated at 60 billion francs (9.1 billion euro ). [17]

The last of the 650 fuel rods was removed from the reactor on March 18, 2003. They are now stored in spent fuel pools .

A public inquiry was launched in April 2004 to consider a plan to set up a 5,500 tons of sodium coolant in 70,000 tons of concrete . The scheme is similar to That Used Following The closure of the Dounreay Fast Reactor in the United Kingdom.

See also

  • List of nuclear reactors
  • Soviet influence on the peace movement
  • Nuclear power in France


  1. Jump up^ Schneider, Mycle (2008). “Fast Breeder Reactors in France”. Science and Global Security . 17 : 36-53. doi : 10.1080 / 08929880902953013 .
  2. Jump up^ Schneider 2009, p. 36.
  3. ^ Jump up to:c Schneider 2009 , p. 38.
  4. ^ Jump up to:b Rapin, M .; Barclay, FJ; Allardice, RH (June 28, 1990). “The Economics of Fast Breeder Reactors”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences . 331 (1619): 435-443.
  5. Jump up^ Liquid Metal Cooled Reactors: Experience in Design and Operation(Technical report). International Atomic Energy Agency. December 2007. p. 57.
  6. ^ Jump up to:c Schneider 2009 , p. 39.
  7. Jump up^ Electricity of France Company History Electricity of France, accessed 2011-04-11
  8. Jump up^ weekend of July 30 and 31, 1977: antinuclear riot in Creys-Malville against the construction of the breeder Superphénix: an activist of the Anarchist Federation, Vital Michalon, is shot by a shot of grenade. Attempted attack in Paris against the EDF Belleville agency: arrests.
  9. Jump up^ http://www.infokiosques.net/IMG/pdf/actionsdirectesnucvol1-A4.pdf
  10. Jump up^ http://leliencommun.org/sdnlot/reseau/histoireluttesantinuke.pdf
  11. Jump up^ Truncheons and tear gas.
  12. Jump up^ Robert Marmoz (23 June 2008). “30 years later, tribute to the killed protester” . tempsreel.nouvelobs.com (in French) . Retrieved 2 April 2010 .
  13. Jump up^ https://www.sciencemag.org/content/215/4533/641.1.citation(subscription required)
  14. Jump up^ Sylvain Besson,After twenty Years of Silence, Former Member Admits Rocket Attack Against Creys-Malville,Nuclear Outflow Network, August 2005(in French)
  15. ^ Jump up to:c SUPERPHENIX in figures, H. Nifenecker ISN Grenoble February 18, 1998
  16. Jump up^ Operating Experience History – SUPER * -PHENIX
  17. Jump up^https://web.archive.org/web/20030111233912/http://www.ccomptes.com/Count-of-accounts/publications/reports/rp1996/cdc63_5.htm

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