A cut-away model of the Superphenix containment. From the National Atomic Museum
Location of Superphénix in France
|Nuclear power station|
|Make and model||Ansaldo|
|Units planned||1 × 1,242 MW|
|Nameplate capacity||2,764 MW|
|Annual generation||797 GW·h|
Superphénix (English: Superphoenix) or SPX was a nuclear power station on the river Rhône at Creys-Malville in France, close to the border with Switzerland. A fast breeder reactor, it produced electricity from 1986 until it halted electricity production in 1996 and was closed as a commercial plant in 1997.
Design work began in 1968, the same year as construction began for the smaller-scale LMFBR Phénix, following the abandonment of the graphite-gas designs. The fast breeder design was chosen in the face of fears of disruption to the supply of other fuels; the "plutonium economy" seemed viable 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.
The construction evoked much public protest. For example, a march by 60,000 protestors, which included the Anarchist group militant de la Fédération Anarchiste, and resulted in the protestors use of molotov cocktails. 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 protestors.
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 caused minor damage to the reinforced concrete outer shell, missing the reactor's empty core. Initially there were no claims of responsibility.
On May 8, 2003, Chaïm Nissim, who in 1985 was elected to the Geneva cantonal government for the Swiss Green Party, eventually admitted carrying out the attack. He claimed that the weapons were obtained from Carlos the Jackal via the Belgian terrorist organisation Cellules Communistes Combattantes (Communist Combatant Cells).
Designed electrical power output was 1.20 GW, though year to year its availability was from zero to 33%. As time passed, problems developed from another source: the liquid sodium cooling system suffered from corrosion and leaks. These problems were eventually fixed and in December 1996 the power reached 90% of the nominal power.
The plant was connected to EDF grid in December 1994 and produced 4 300 GWh of electricity, worth about a billion 1995 Franc, during the next 10 months of operation. In 1996 it produced 3 400 GWh worth about 850 million Francs.
In September 1998, the plant was closed. Two incidents earlier in the year had culminated in a third, which triggered an automatic shutdown.
During 11 years, the plant spent 63 months of normal operations, mostly at low power; 25 months of outages due to fixing technical problems of the prototype; and 66 months were spent on halt due to political and administrative issues.
Superphénix had been a focus point of many groups opposed to nuclear power, including the green party Les Verts, since its planning and construction. After the struggle of these "ecologists" against Superphénix, a national network called Sortir du nucléaire was formed, bringing together hundreds of organisations: 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 Conseil d'État (Supreme State Administrative Court) ruled that a 1994 decree, authorizing the restart of Superphénix, was invalid. In June 1997, one of the first actions of Lionel Jospin on becoming Prime Minister was to announce the closure of the plant "because of its excessive costs". Jospin's government included Green ministers; pro-nuclear critics have argued that Jospin's decision was motivated by political motives (i.e., to please his Green political allies) rather than rational considerations.
Superphénix was the last fast breeder reactor operating in Europe for electricity production. According to a 1996 report by the French Accounting Office (Cour des Comptes), the total expenditure on the reactor to date was estimated at 60 billion francs (9.1 billion euro).
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 plans to set up a plant to incorporate the 5,500 tonnes of sodium coolant in 70,000 tonnes of concrete. The plan is similar to that used following the closure of the Dounreay Fast Reactor in the United Kingdom.
- week-end des 30 et 31 juillet 1977 : émeute antinucléaire à Creys-Malville contre la construction du surgénérateur Superphénix : un militant de la Fédération Anarchiste, Vital Michalon, est abattu par un tir de grenade. Tentative d’attentat à Paris contre l’agence EDF de Belleville : arrestations.
- Truncheons and tear gas.
- Robert Marmoz (23 June 2008). "30 ans après, hommage au manifestant tué". tempsreel.nouvelobs.com (in French). Retrieved 2 April 2010.
- https://www.sciencemag.org/content/215/4533/641.1.citation(subscription required)
- Sylvain Besson, Après vingt ans de silence, un ex-député avoue l'attaque à la roquette contre Creys-Malville, Réseau Sortir du nucléaire, August 2005 (French)
- SUPERPHENIX in figures, H. Nifenecker ISN Grenoble February 18, 1998
- Operating Experience History - SUPER*-PHENIX
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