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Civilian HEU: France

While France currently uses HEU for military and civilian purposes, Paris has been supportive of efforts to reduce its use in both the civilian and military sectors. Paris is also progressing in the conversion of its research reactors to LEU fuels.

Overview

HEU Table for France
 

Military HEU
France is a nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). French military use of HEU includes nuclear weapons and defense reactors (including research reactors and naval propulsion reactors). Albright and Kramer estimated that as of the end of 2003, France had 29 metric tons (± 7 tons) of HEU in military stockpiles: this included approximately 25 metric tons of uranium in primary military stocks; one ton for naval propulsion reactors; and 3.5 tons in spent fuel at military production reactors. [1] The 2013 report by the International Panel on Fissile Materials estimated French military stocks at 26 ± 6 tons. [2] Unlike Russia and the United States, which employ HEU fuel in their naval reactors, France's newest submarines use LEU fuel, which can be recycled together with civilian nuclear fuel. [3] France officially announced that it would cease HEU production for nuclear weapons purposes on 22 February 1996, and stopped producing HEU altogether by the end of June 1996. [4]

Civilian HEU
The French government voluntarily declares its civil HEU holdings to the IAEA as part of its annual declaration of plutonium stocks (INFCIRC/549). Summary information from France's declarations to the IAEA is presented in the table listed below in the downloadable documents section.

France declared in 2013 that it held 4744 kg of civilian HEU, of which 3215 kg were unirradiated. [5] However, several tons of France's civilian HEU holdings are foreign-owned, and include U.S. and Russian-origin materials for use in research-reactor fuel. [6]


Osiris Reactor, www.ill.eu

HEU Production
France has not produced HEU since 1996. [7] France became the first nuclear weapon state to announce that it would cease all production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, closing the Pierrelatte enrichment plant where highly enriched weapons-grade uranium had been produced. In September 2008 and March 2009, France organized visits by international experts to observe the dismantlement of Pierrelatte. [8] France currently has two civilian enrichment facilities, Georges Besse I and Georges Besse II, which are used exclusively for LEU production. [9]

HEU Commerce
France has purchased HEU from both Russia and the United States. French companies obtain foreign-owned HEU for fabrication into fuel rods, which are then exported (for example, to Germany's FRM-II). Additionally, France accepts spent HEU fuel for reprocessing in its civilian facilities.

In 1996, France and Russia concluded an agreement for the purchase of 625 kg of HEU over nine years (55kg/yr for HFR and 125 kg for Orpheus). By January 2006, all of the Russian HEU had been delivered (a total of 627 kg). [10] France also has the option of purchasing U.S.-origin HEU. Paris bought 69 kg in HEU credits from the U.S. Department of Energy in 1990 when Russian fuel shipments were delayed, after promising that it would convert the Réacteur à Haut Flux (High Flux Reactor or RHF) in Grenoble as soon as appropriate LEU fuel became available. However, when Moscow started the shipments, Paris did not move forward with obtaining the U.S. fuel. In 2006, Grenoble's Laue-Langevin Institute (ILL) sold the American fuel credits to Belgium's Nuclear Research Center (SCK/CEN) for its BR2 reactor in Mol. In March 2010, France requested 160 kg of U.S.-origin HEU for the operation of the ILL. Washington conditioned these shipments on a commitment to convert the ILL reactor. Later that year, Belgium requested a shipment of 93.5 kg of U.S. HEU for the fabrication in France of fuel for the BR2. [11] In September 2013, Russia's Rosatom and the French Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique publicized a deal which will see Rosatom supply HEU fuel for the Jules Horowitz Reactor at the Cadarache Center, which is under construction. [12]

France has provided 30% enriched fuel for the Guinevere test reactor in Belgium, which was successfully operated for the first time in January 2012. [13] This facility was built with significant European cooperation to serve as a demonstration model for an Accelerator Driven System, which allows a reactor to be shut down immediately by turning off the accelerator serving as the neutron source. [14]

France also imports spent HEU fuel for reprocessing. The recovered HEU is blended-down to LEU, and the wastes are returned to the country of origin. [15] The French company Areva has had contracts with Australian and Belgian customers for research and test reactor fuel since 2005. As of 2011, half of Australia's spent fuel had been reprocessed. [16]

While the French government has been supportive of decreasing civil HEU use, nuclear industry personnel have voiced concerns about maintaining market share. In April 2008, for example, an AREVA official concerned about the end of production of HEU at Western enrichment plants suggested that the company stockpile "large quantities" of HEU to ensure future availability for customers requiring HEU fuel. [17] Caroline Jorant, then director for nonproliferation and international institutions in AREVA's International and Marketing Division, said that HEU fuel is needed for high-power research reactors until new LEU fuel is developed, and that power reactors will one day need LEU fuel enriched as high as 9 to 10% U-235 - far above current LEU enrichment levels of 3-4%. [18] In a similar vein, AREVA's Jean-Francois Gervais said downblending 93%-enriched material to 4.95% for LWR fuel is "a waste of resources." [19] Industry is likely to support blending down material to 20% U-235 after customers have converted from the use of HEU fuel.


Masurca reactor, www.ill.eu

Continuing HEU Use, Containment, and Shutdown
France's HEU requirements in the military and civilian spheres are slowly being reduced. While France's second-generation submarines used HEU fuel, its newer submarines use LEU fuels for naval propulsion. Thus as older boats are decommissioned, France will no longer require HEU for naval propulsion. [20] France has also worked to standardize the fuel used in its naval and civilian reactors so that their spent fuel can be reprocessed in the same facilities.

In the civilian sphere, France is gradually decommissioning its HEU-fueled reactors, and plans to fuel future reactors with LEU. Still as a country highly reliant on nuclear power, France is committed to maintaining an advanced level of nuclear research. It believes that fourth-generation high density LEU fuels using alloys of uranium and molybdenum (U-MO) that are under development in France and elsewhere will allow it to sustain performance levels (such as high neutron flux levels) without HEU. A French U-Mo fuel development group of CEA, CERCA, COGEMA, Framatome-ANP, and Technicatome has been working on the issue since 1999. [21] When the development of high-density U-Mo fuels ran into some difficulties, the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) increased its commitment to research and development, including international collaboration. According to JHR head Daniel Iracane, France is "deeply committed" to developing a low-enriched fuel for use in its research reactors that can be reprocessed. [22]

Three critical assemblies and two reactors had stopped using HEU by 2011 (and are instead using MOX fuels), while three reactors and one critical assembly using HEU had been shut down. Use of HEU in research reactor cores in France continues in the Réacteur Haut Flux of the Institute Max Von Laue-Paul Langevin (ILL); the Minerve reactor at Cadarache (in its core; lattice composition is highly variable); and in the Orphée reactor at Saclay. [23] The former, known in English as the HFR, is temporarily shutdown for technological updates and scheduled to resume operation in July 2014. [24] The Masurca Fast Critical Assembly at Cadarache, which has highly flexible loadout options but usually uses 30% HEU, is also shutdown, and is slated to restart in 2017. [25]

Operations at Minerve and Orphée are slated to stop by 2019. [26] Two reactors, the HFR, and the Orphée at the Laboratoire Léon Brillouin (LLB) in Saclay, cannot be converted with fuel that is currently available. [27] However, in 1998 the French institutes pledged to convert the reactors to LEU fuel; France and the United States signed memoranda of understanding to convert the facilities when fuel becomes available. The U.S. Department of Energy is currently working on developing LEU fuel for the two reactors as part of a four nation initiative agreed to at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit. The reactors will be converted when that fuel is qualified, a process currently underway. At the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, this became a five-nation initiative with the addition of Germany into the development of UMo as a monolithic fuel as well as a powder. [28]

Conversion of the RHF is under examination. The tri-national convention that governs the ILL currently runs through 2013, but the institute intends to operate the reactor until 2020 or 2025. According to ILL reactor division director Herve Guyon and ILL director Colin Carlile, conversion is not out of the question, even for only a decade of operation (2015-2025). The ILL received 186.4 kg of HEU from the Y-12 National Security Complex in 2012 to manufacture fuel for the RHF. This shipment is intended to be the last the reactor receives from the United States if the new fuel qualification proceeds as expected. [29]

However, the Jules Horowitz reactor (JHR), which is currently under construction, is planned to start up using highly enriched fuel imported from Russia. [30] The first criticality is planned for 2016, with the first experiment slated for 2018. [31] Still, Iracane noted that France decided from the beginning to use LEU as the fuel for the reactor after startup, and had examined the possibility of starting the JHR with an alternative silicide fuel that has a lower enrichment level than the 27% enriched silicide fuel employed in current tests. [32]

Fuel Return
While some of France's research reactor fuel is U.S.-origin, France is unlikely to repatriate this fuel to the United States. France is one of six countries currently developing alternatives to the disposal of U.S.-origin fuel in the United States (the others are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom). [33] According to Albright and Kramer, France is expected to reprocess most of its own spent HEU reactor fuel and blend it down to LEU; if reprocessing some of the spent HEU fuel is not economically viable, it would be disposed of as spent fuel. [34]


The reactor hall at Phénix, www.ill.eu

Policy Issues

Continued French imports of HEU will reinforce the view of supplier states that such materials are economically valuable and risk delaying HEU minimization efforts. [35] The French government is likely to support international efforts to reduce the use of HEU in civilian facilities, provided the caveat "as soon as technically and economically feasible" remains. [36] Because of the delay in the development of the new high-density LEU fuel needed, the Jules Horowitz reactor (JHR) currently under construction in Cadarache, Paris, will not support any HEU reduction efforts that preclude the use of the 27% fuel in the JHR prior to the reactor's start-up (set for 2014). Once fuels are developed for the RHF and the Orphée, Paris is likely to move forward on their conversion as pledged to the U.S. Department of Energy in 1998. At the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, France signed on to a joint project with the United States, Belgium, and South Korea to develop and use the high-density LEU fuel necessary to operate these reactors over the next several years, including fabricating the fuel and loading it into its high-performance reactor. [37] In addition, France has agreed to work with the United States, the Netherlands, and Belgium on converting medical isotope production to LEU-based processes (fuel and targets) by 2015, "subject to regulatory approvals." [38] France reported to the 2014 National Security Summit a significant leap forward in this regard: In 2013, the French company CIS-bio International was able to successfully distribute medical isotopes made with Molybdenum-99 (UMo) produced by LEU rather than HEU. [39] Distribution in other countries in Europe has been slowed down by a lack of medical and other regulatory approvals, slowing the conversion of the key Mo-99 market from HEU to LEU. [40]

At the international level, France has supported increased transparency of HEU stockpiles. In its 2005 NPT Committee III Statement, France asserted that it, "is convinced that HEU stocks would benefit from the adoption of [disclosures similar to those on civil plutonium]." [41] With the United States, France has drafted HEU guidelines along the lines of the existing plutonium guidelines (INFCIRC 549), which include measures on transparency, physical protection, and good management. France already declares its civilian HEU stockpiles through its annual INFCIRC 549 submission. France is trying to win support for the measure from other countries. Toward this end, Paris drafted a non-paper on the subject for consideration of the countries involved in the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. [42] However, the guidelines ultimately did not make it onto the Summit's agenda.

Sources:
[1] Institute for Science and International Security, "Military and Excess Stocks of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) in the Acknowledged Nuclear Weapon States," Global Stocks of Nuclear and Explosive Materials, June 11, 2004, revised June 30, 2005, http://isis-online.org.
[2] International Panel on Fissile Materials, "Increasing Transparency of Nuclear-warhead and Fissile-material Stocks as a Step toward Disarmament," April 24, 2013, p. 11, http://fissilematerials.org.
[3] "Direction des applications militaires," CEA, www-dam.cea.fr; "Les chaufferies nucléaires françaises embarquées," Cols Bleus No. 2412, October 11, 1997, available on France's Defense Ministry website, www.defense.gouv.fr.
[4] International Panel on Fissile Materials, "Increasing Transparency of Nuclear-warhead and Fissile-material Stocks as a Step toward Disarmament," April 24, 2013, p. 3, http://fissilematerials.org; International Panel on Fissile Material, "Countries: France," February 4, 2013, http://fissilematerials.org.
[5] Declaration made on August 28, 2013, data as of December 31, 2012, reported in: International Atomic Energy Agency, "Communication Received from France Concerning its Policies regarding the Management of Plutonium, Statements on the Management of Plutonium and of High Enriched Uranium," INFCIRC/549/Add.5/17, August 28, 2013, retrieved at: www.iaea.org.
[6] International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), Global Fissile Material Report 2010, op. cit., p. 88, www.fissilematerials.org. According to Albright and Kramer's 2005 data, Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands had various amounts of HEU in France awaiting either reprocessing and blend-down or fuel fabrication. France also stored approximately 400 kg of HEU from Russia for Germany's FRM-II reactor. In addition, Germany reportedly contracted with France to reprocess spent HEU from the closed KNK-II at its fast reactor reprocessing facility. David Albright and Kimberly Kramer, "Tracking Inventories of Civil Highly Enriched Uranium," February 2005, revised August 2005, www.isis-online.org.
[7] Institute for Science and International Security, "Military and Excess Stocks of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) in the Acknowledged Nuclear Weapon States," Global Stocks of Nuclear and Explosive Materials, June 11, 2004, revised June 30, 2005, http://isis-online.org.
[8] "Nuclear disarmament: France's practical commitment," Working paper submitted by France to the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 NPT Review Conference, 13 May 2009, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.36, www.nti.org.
[9] World Nuclear Association, "Nuclear Power in France," September 2013, www.world-nuclear.org.
[10] Ann MacLachlan and Daniel Horner, "BR2 set to get U.S. HEU in 'credits' deal with ILL, DOE,"NuclearFuel, Vol. 31, No. 2, January 16, 2006.
[11] NuclearFuel, January 11, 1999, p.1; and NuclearFuel, June 17, 1996, p.1, as cited in Ann MacLachlan and Daniel Horner, "BR2 set to get U.S. HEU in 'credits' deal with ILL, DOE,"NuclearFuel, Vol. 31, No. 2, January 16, 2006; Pavel Podvig, "U.S. to supply HEU for the High Flux Reactor in France," International Panel on Fissile Materials, March 11, 2010, http://fissilematerials.org; Pavel Podvig, "United States to send HEU to France for Belgian BR2 Reactor," International Panel on Fissile Materials, February 19, 2010, http://fissilematerials.org.
[12] Pavel Podvig, "Russia to Supply HEU Fuel for French Research Reactor," International Panel on Fissile Material, September 18, 2013, http://fissilematerials.org; International Atomic Energy Agency, "Research Reactor Database: France," October 25, 2013, http://nucleus.iaea.org.
[13] Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, "UINEVERE: Towards Cleaner Nuclear Energy," CNRS Press Releases, January 11, 2012, www2.cnrs.fr; M. Baylac, "Some Highlights of Experimental ADS Programs in Europe," presentation given at the 1st International Workshop on Accelerator-Driven Sub-Critical Systems & Thorium Utilization, September 27-29, 2010, Virginia, United States, p. 19, www.phys.vt.edu; Dirk Vandeplassche, Peter Baeten, "The Guinevere Experiment: a First Step on the Road to MYRRHA," ENS, No. 25 (Summer 2005), retrieved at: www.euronuclear.org.
[14] Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, "UINEVERE: Towards Cleaner Nuclear Energy," CNRS Press Releases, January 11, 2012, www2.cnrs.fr.
[15] David Albright and Kimberly Kramer, "Tracking Inventories of Civil Highly Enriched Uranium," February 2005, revised August 2005, www.isis-online.org; See also: "Cogema's Inventory of Spent Fuel at La Hague," SpentFuel, January 30, 2006, p. 4.
[16] Ann MacLachlan, "Foreigners own little spent fuel, more waste and Pu at La Hague,"NuclearFuel, July 27, 2009; Email communication with Ann MacLachlan, Platts Nuclear Publications, May 15, 2008; Also see table 5 in Mycle Schneider and Yves Marignac, Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing in France, International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2008; Email communication with Rob Floyd, Director General, Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation, March 12, 2013.
[17] Ann MacLachlan, "Areva proposes secure storage to ensure some HEU for future use,"NuclearFuel, April 7, 2008.
[18] Ann MacLachlan, "Areva proposes secure storage to ensure some HEU for future use,"NuclearFuel, April 7, 2008.
[19] Ann MacLachlan, "Areva proposes secure storage to ensure some HEU for future use,"NuclearFuel, April 7, 2008.
[20] The French experience with the move to LEU naval propulsion is detailed in: Rebecca Ward, "Prospects for Conversion of U.S. Naval Propulsion Reactors," University of Texas at Austin, April 2011, www.heuphaseout.org.
[21] J.-M. Hamy, A. Languille, B. Guigon, P. Lemoine, C. Jarousse, M. Boyard, and J.-L. Emin, "Status as of March 2002 of the U-Mo Development Program," Transactions of the 6th International Topical Meeting on Research Reactor Fuel Management (RRFM 2002), Ghent, Belgium, March 17-20, 2002, pp. 33-39. Cerca is working on LEU fuels to be used in the United States and Germany, as well as France and elsewhere, testing many of the fuels in France's Osiris reactor. For example, see: "FRM-2 can't run on low-enriched fuel, Munich experts calculate," NuclearFuel, Vol.30, No. 11, May 23, 2005.
[22] Presentation by JHR program director Daniel Iracane, Technical Workshop on HEU Minimization in Oslo, June 18, 2006.
[23] For MINERVE details, see: Olivier Leray, "Détermination, Maîtrise et Réduction des Biais et Incertitudes de la Réactivité du Réacteur Jules Horowitz," PhD Thesis, Université de Grenoble, defended September 25, 2012, p. 14, http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr; Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique, "Bilan 2012 des Réacteurs de Recherche Français." 2012, ed. Club d'Exploitants des Réacteurs, p. 50, www-cadarache.cea.fr. In general, see: Margarita Jimenez, "USA and Europe: High-Power Research Reactors," in Nuclear Terrorism and Global Security: The Challenge of Phasing out Highly Enriched Uranium, Alan J. Kuperman, ed, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), p. 56; Institut Laue-Langevin, "Questions-réponses," May 13, 2011, www.ill.eu; Orphée Laboratoire Léon Brillouin, "The Reactor Orphee," 2013, www-llb.cea.fr; "The Contribution of the MINERVE and MASURCA Critical Mockups to Reactor Physics," CLEFS CEA, No. 55 (Summer 2007): p. 107, Retrieved at: http://animma.com.
[24] Institut Laue-Langevin, "Long Shutdown: 9 August 2013 - June 2014," Front page of the Institut Laue-Langevin website, accessed October 30, 2013, www.ill.eu.
[25] "The Contribution of the MINERVE and MASURCA Critical Mockups to Reactor Physics," CLEFS CEA, No. 55 (Summer 2007): p. 107. Retrieved at: http://animma.com; Paul Osborne, "Russia: Critical Assemblies and Pulsed Reactors," in Nuclear Terrorism and Global Security: The Challenge of Phasing out Highly Enriched Uranium, Alan J. Kuperman, ed, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), p. 166; International Atomic Energy Agency, "Research Reactors, Masurca," October 25, 2013, http://nucleus.iaea.org.
[26] ASN, "Chapter 14: Nuclear Research Facilities and Various Nuclear Installations," December 15, 2012, p. 434, www.french-nuclear-safety.fr. The OSIRIS reactor was converted to use LEU qualified fuel in a process that started in 1994. However, it was already using "Caramel" fuel (7% UO2, Zircaloy) since the 70s; it was converted to streamline fuel usage rather than reduce enrichment levels. See: Alain Ballagny, Patrick Lemoine, Sylvie Dubois, "Combustibles Pour Réacteurs de Recherche," Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique, December 2008, p. 128, www.cea.fr.
[27] Alain Ballagny, Patrick Lemoine, Sylvie Dubois, "Combustibles Pour Réacteurs de Recherche," Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique, December 2008, p. 128, www.cea.fr.
[28] "Joint Statement on Multinational Cooperation on High-density Low-enriched Uranium Fuel Production," Nuclear Security Summit, The Hague, Netherlands, 2014, www.nss2014.com.
[28] "Joint Statement on Multinational Cooperation on High-density Low-enriched Uranium Fuel Production," Nuclear Security Summit, The Hague, Netherlands, 2014, www.nss2014.com.
[29] Pavel Podvig, "U.S. Reported to Complete HEU Shipment to France," International Panel on Fissile Material, April 2, 2012, http://fissilematerials.org; Communication with U.S. government officials.
[30] Pavel Podvig, "Russia to Supply HEU Fuel for French Research Reactor," International Panel on Fissile Material, September 18, 2013, http://fissilematerials.org; International Atomic Energy Agency, "Research Reactor Database: France," October 25, 2013, http://nucleus.iaea.org.
[31] J. Estrade, G. Bignan, X. Bravo, "The Jules Horowitz Reactor: a New High Performances European MTR (Material Testing Reactor) with Modern Experimental Capacities- Building an International User Facility," paper presented at the European Research Reactor Conference, St. Petersburg, Russia, April 21-25, 2013, p. 9, www.euronuclear.org.
[32] Currently, a 4.8 gU/cm3 U3Si2 fuel is being used, but CERCA is qualifying a higher density (5.8 gU/cm3) fuel that could possibly be used in the JHR; however, more testing is required and performance may not be the same as with the 4.8 gU/cm3 fuel. From presentation by JHR Program director Daniel Iracane, Technical Workshop on HEU Minimization in Oslo, June 18, 2006.
[33] GAO Report GAO-05-57, "Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Needs to Consider Options to Accelerate the Return of Weapons-Usable Uranium from Other Countries to the United States and Russia," November 2004.
[34] David Albright and Kimberly Kramer, "Tracking Inventories of Civil Highly Enriched Uranium," February 2005, revised August 2005, www.isis-online.org.
[35] This mirrors analysis regarding a previous HEU shipment deal between Russia and France; see: Alan J. Kuperman, Paul L. Leventhal, "RERTR End-Game: a Win-Win Framework," a paper presented at the International Meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research Reactors and Test Reactors (RERTR) Program, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, October 5-10, 1997, www.nci.org.
[36] "National Progress Report: France," Nuclear Security Summit, The Hague, Netherlands, 2014, www.nss2014.com.
[37] "Joint Statement on Quadrilateral Cooperation on High-density Low-enriched Uranium Fuel Production," Nuclear Security Summit, Seoul, South Korea, 2012, www.thenuclearsecuritysummit.org.
[38] "Belgium-France-Netherlands-United States Joint Statement: Minimization of HEU and the Reliable Supply of Medical Radioisotopes," Nuclear Security Summit, Seoul, South Korea, 2012, www.thenuclearsecuritysummit.org.
[39] "Déclaration nationale francaise", (French National Statement) Nuclear Security Summit, The Hague, Netherlands, 2014, www.nss2014.com.
[40] Pomper, Miles A and Philippe Mauger. "Crossing the Finish Line: Ending the Civilian Use of Highly Enriched Uranium," The Stanley Foundation, May 2014.
[41] "Pour ce qui le concerne, mon pays est déterminé à poursuivre les efforts de transparence déjà entrepris, notamment en matière de sûreté. S'agissant des matières nucléaires, la France est membre du groupe des pays signataires des directives adoptées sur la gestion du plutonium civil et à ce titre elle publie annuellement l'état de ses stocks civils. Mon pays est également convaincu que la gestion des stocks d'uranium hautement enrichi gagnerait à l'adoption de directives similaires," www.un.int.
[42] Miles A. Pomper, Cole J. Harvey, and David A. Slungaard, "Toward the Global Norm: Supporting the Minimization of Highly Enriched Uranium in the Civilian Sector," the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, June 23, 2011, www.asaninst.org.

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The article is part of a collection examining civilian HEU reduction and elimination efforts. It details current French HEU policies, progress reducing and eliminating the civil use of HEU in France, and remaining challenges.

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