Blog AnalysisDefense industry

Franco-British nuclear cooperation, in detail

The end of explosions in the atmosphere (here at Mururoa) requires the use of simulators, as at Valduc (credit: Defense Historical Service – SHD, rights reserved)

(BRUSSELS2, analysis) After the great outpourings of the renewal of Franco-British friendship, we go into the details of the projects. Cooperation in the nuclear field is one of the most sensitive areas, both in operational terms (confidentiality of tests) and in terms of responsibility (what to do with waste? what happens in the event of accident?…) and hope of savings. A specific treaty – comprising around twenty articles – which answers all these questions, is in the process of being ratified. The French parliament, for its part, approved this ratification (the law appeared in the Official Journal of May 28) and examined some of the most contentious issues.

Two projects

The program includes two projects: the construction and joint operation of a radiographic and hydrodynamic facility called ÉPURE, built on the Valduc site of the CEA's military applications department (CEA-DAM), and a joint program of radiographic technologies and diagnostics in a common facility called " TEUTATES Technology Development Center”.

the Valduc center (credit: CEA)

The EPURE plant

The experiments carried out are simulation experiments. A test that has become essential for the signatory countries of the nuclear test ban treaty (TICE) which " can no longer verify the effectiveness of a new mechanism by a real test (and) must now be content with validation by simulation ».

EPURE will eventually be formed by “ an experiment platform (known as a firing point) around which there will be three X-ray machines as well as a second firing point associated with measurement means that are lighter than the first and which will make it possible to carry out experiments in the physics of materials ».

The first X-ray machine will come from the X-ray induction accelerator for X-ray imaging (AIRIX) at the Moronvilliers site. A second X-ray machine will be built by the UK by 2019; and a third machine built jointly by France and the United Kingdom by 2022.

The interest does not lie only in economy of means, as specified in the report of the National Assembly. “ While there is only one X-ray machine in AIRIX, there will be three in ÉPURE, which will make it possible to perform X-rays under three different axes of view. It will therefore be possible, if the x-rays are taken at the same time, to obtain a three-dimensional and internal view of the tested object or, if the x-rays are taken at different times, to follow the temporal evolution."

In addition to the two firing platforms and the X-ray machines, which correspond to the common part of the installation, ÉPURE will include premises specific to each country where the teams will be able, " in complete sovereignty, prepare the experimental devices and place them in sealed tanks which ensure total containment of the products of the experiment ". These clean premises also include office spaces and systems for acquiring the measurements made during the experiments ».

A common laboratory

A common program of radiographic and diagnostic technologies in a common facility called " TEUTATES Technology Development Center. This installation (known as “TDC”) will be built in the United Kingdom on the site of the Atomic Weapons Establishment of Aldermaston. TDC will consist of a laboratory and associated office space. French and British researchers will work there, the objective of the AWE and the CEA being to bring together the teams there and to constitute a world-class research and development team. TDC should be commissioned by 2014. Between 2015 and 2017, the facility will house the British-designed radiographic machine which will constitute, from 2017, the second radiographic line of sight for EPURE. Subsequently, the Franco-British X-ray machine was developed there.


Key savings: 450 million over the period

The creation of common infrastructures should allow – according to the impact study – a sharing of costs and a saving of 450 million euros for each country over the period: 200 million euros for the period 2015-2020, of 200 to 250 million for the period after 2020. For the record, maintaining a military nuclear capacity represents an “annual effort of the order of 3 billion euros for the United Kingdom and nearly 3,5 billion 'euros for France'. NB: The savings made are therefore relatively low, per year, of the order of less than 40 million euros annually, in the ramp-up phase, much less afterwards.

The load distribution is fixed. France bears the costs of phase 1 of the ÉPURE installation, the United Kingdom those of the TDC installation. From 1 January 2015, the parties shall share equally the costs and benefits resulting from their participation in the joint programme, including all associated administrative and indirect costs, with the exception of work undertaken exclusively within the framework of national programmes. .

It should be noted that French, British and European companies benefit from the same opportunities to bid on all contracts related to the TDC facility or to Phase 2 of the ÉPURE facility”.

A long life cycle

The total life cycle, including design, construction, operation, final shutdown and dismantling, of the ÉPURE and TDC facilities is 50 years, which is broken down into three phases: 10 years of construction, 25 to 30 years of operation and 10 years of deconstruction. The dismantling of the installation is therefore planned between 2065 and 2081.


Respect for confidentiality

Although the facilities are common to France and the United Kingdom, the treaty ensures the independence of the experiments carried out by each of the two parties. The United Kingdom will not have access to the work carried out by France and vice versa. The configuration of the buildings will ensure this independence. Thereby, " the French assembly hall will only be accessible to French personnel ". And vice versa.

Although the French and British safety authorities will be able to jointly inspect, for installations located in France, the premises of the United Kingdom in order to ensure that they comply with the safety requirements, the French safety authority will only have access to any information on the British experimental buildings". And the British personnel will not have access to other facilities on the Valduc site ". THE PURE will be " located in a specific space, separated by a regulatory fence from the rest of the CEA center ". Access to ÉPURE will only give access for the British to the canteen of the center and to the medical center.

No sharing of information

Validation methods and test procedures could be exchanged between France and the United Kingdom without the two countries needing to communicate information related to nuclear technology. It would be good " discussions on scientific protocols and on an approach more than on a technology. On the other hand, in the longer term, nothing prohibits « a sharing of fundamental physics experiences ". A sharing that is currently unidentified “says the rapporteur of the National Assembly.

Tests with substitute materials

Most experiments will use substitute materials for plutonium (such as tantalum, lead or depleted uranium). In the few cases where nuclear materials will be used, " These will be subcritical experiments where the quantities of fissile material that will be used will be very low in order to guarantee that there will be no release of nuclear energy. No nuclear weapon will ever be tested within ÉPURE or TDC. (…) There will be no controlled reproduction of nuclear explosions. »

Liability for nuclear damage

Civil liability for nuclear damage resulting from operations carried out in the EPURE facility is the responsibility of the CEA in its capacity as nuclear operator. However, the CEA has a right of recourse against the UK if the incident or damage is attributable to negligence or a violation of legal obligations, regulations or procedures by UK personnel. United.


Waste from testing and experiments remains the property and responsibility of the country of origin. The waste from the tests carried out by the United Kingdom in the EPURE facility is returned to it after treatment and conditioning. And the converse is true, for waste from French operations in the TDC facility which “is returned” to France.

In general, it will be very mainly mixtures between the residues of the detonation of the explosive (products based on carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen) and substitute materials (lead, tantalum, steel). It won't be nuclear waste ". All these materials will be confined in the experimental tanks which will be cleaned and the waste will be evacuated as ordinary waste ". For the few experiments where nuclear materials will be used, " these will be extracted in a specific part of the ÉPURE installation and the tanks can be evacuated in an existing deposit. A waste treatment facility will be set up from 2022."

Other liability cases

"For damage to property or personal injury or death resulting from willful act or omission or gross negligence" committed by any of the parties, its staff or agents, that party is " fully responsible for the satisfaction or treatment of any claim for compensation ».

Otherwise, liability for injury or damage to property resulting from "UK operations conducted by UK personnel either in the UK area or in the common areas of the EPURE facility or in the TDC facility", is exclusively within the UK. And vice versa for the French part.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).