France Calls It Quits on Sodium Cooled Fast Reactor

  • Astrid Project / France drops plans to build Generation IV prototype
  • Of the 10 sodium cooled reactors in the IAEA ARIS DBMS, three of them are in the U.S. and all are under development
  • TerraPower and ARC Nuclear are briefly profiled here
  • Links to coverage on this blog of other sodium cooled reactor efforts are included below.

(NucNet) France’s nuclear agency has dropped plans to build a prototype Generation IV sodium-cooled fast breeder nuclear reactor known as Astrid (project home page) Le Monde newspaper reported last week. (GEN IV Sodium Cooled Reactor technology description)


GEN IV Conceptual Design of a Sodium Cooled Fast Reactor: Image: Gen IV Forum

The newspaper said the Atomic and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA) would suspend the 600-MW Astrid FBR project, which was planned for CEA’s Marcoule nuclear site in southern France.

“In the current energy market situation, the industrial development of fourth-generation reactors is not planned before the second half of this century,” the CEA said, according to Le Monde.

Le Monde quoted a CEA source as saying that “the project is dead and that the agency is spending no more time or money on it.”

By the end of 2017 investment in the project had reached €738M (USD$812M), according to public auditor data in Le Monde’s report. However, the newspaper also said the project could be revived “in the second half of the century.’

The French may be right about time frame for commercial prospects of some types of advanced reactors given low price of natural gas and development of hybrid systems of gas plants and renewables being far less capital & time intensive than advanced nuclear tech. Whether these constraints will apply to sodium cooled reactors remains a question.

The challenges facing developers of advanced reactors involve;

  • Reactor design issues and challenges to work with new materials for high heat applications and all for first of a kind systems (FOAK),
  • Fuel development, testing and fabrication,
  • NRC safety review and licensing,
  • Raising money to build a prototype unit, and
  • Developing a supply chain for the fuel and the reactor components
  • Convincing a risk adverse publically traded electric utility that the vendor can deliver one on time, within budget, and,
  • That it will work as specified and can be operated at a profit within the realities of a regulated market.

Achieving all of these milestones take years to complete along with major financial commitments. Sometimes cutting one’s losses may be the best strategy as evidenced by the decision by Transatomic to fold its tent and archive its technical results at the Idaho National Laboratory as open source research.

Joint Development with Japan Now at an End

Le Monde said the announcement confirms reports in the Japanese press dating back to November 2018 when the French government told Japan it intended to halt their joint development of the Astrid FBR.

Japan cancelled its own Monju prototype fast-breeder project in 2016 due to rising costs. The plant experinenced a number of industrial incidents including a leak in 1995 of 700kg of liquid sodium leaked from the secondary cooling loop.

Japan had viewed Astrid as central to its plans to recycle its growing inventory of spent nuclear fuel. An FBR generates more fissile material than it consumes and allows for a significant increase in the amount of energy obtained from natural, depleted and recycled uranium. The technology also enables plutonium and other actinides to be used and recycled.

The plant was seen as an alternative to reprocessing spent nuclear fuel into mixed oxide fuel (MOX) qnd burning MOX in conventionl light water reactors. Most of Japan’s inventory of spent nuclear fuel is also in France and the UK.
See prior coverage on this blogJapan Says Burning MOX is Key to Reduce Plutonium Stocks

One of the key objectives of Astrid was to use depleted uranium and plutonium from France’s existing nuclear fleet as fuel. Le Monde said this material is largely stored at Orano’s La Hague site in northern France.

The idea behind the design is to turn depleted uranium (U238) into fuel and make France self-sufficient in energy for decades. However, globally uranium prices have been on a downward spiral since 2011 which took away the economic rationale for fast-breeder technology.

Update on Other Sodium Cool Fast Reactors

A review of the IAEA advanced reactor information system (ARIS) for listings of sodium cooled fast reactor designs under development reveals 10 separate development efforts, but only four of the appear to be making publicly reported progress and three are in the U.S. Here are some links to prior coverage on this blog of these projects.

GE-Hitachi PRISM reactor

TerraPower Traveling Wave Reactor

China Institute of Atomic Energy CFR 600

ARC-100 small modular reactor

How a Sodium Cooled Reactor Works – TerraPower as an Example


According to the TerraPower website the reactor core and its components are immersed in liquid sodium. The pool type configuration has no piping which eliminates the risk of a “loss of coolant accident.”

The Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR) uses a Rankine steam cycle to convert heat into electricity. Intermediate heat exchangers securely transfer heat from the primary sodium pool to a secondary sodium loop, which in turn transfers heat to the steam generators.

Status of TerraPower Traveling Wave Reactor

TerraPower had developed a joint venture with China’s CNNC in 2017 to co-develop the traveling wave reactor. However, in October 2018, the Trump administration, as part of its ill-advised trade war with China, shut down all previously authorized partnerships involving U.S. commercial nuclear energy technology development efforts with China.

TerraPower is restarting U.S.-based development of fast reactor fuel in preparation for the TWR prototype. Working with Idaho National Laboratory, TerraPower commissioned a lab-scale fuel fabrication facility, which is on track to produce the first extrusions of metallic nuclear fuel in the U.S. since the 1980s. Currently, fuels are also being tested in the Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory.

TWR Achievements to Date

  • Determined a path forward for preliminary and final design, licensing and supply chain in order to minimize delays in bringing the initial plant to completion;
  • Established working relationships with a range of private companies and national labs to support design activities; and
  • Began to conduct ongoing experiments to test innovative material and fuel designs.

TerraPower has made progress by leveraging public-private partnerships, seeking excellence in commercial partners, and forging a new supply chain for fuels and materials. The company aims to achieve startup of a first traveling wave reactor (TWR) prototype in the mid-2020s.

ARC Canada Bets its Future on the Legacy of the Integral Fast Reactor

arc nuclear logo


Conceptual image of ARC100 SMR. Image: ARC Nuclear

The firm is developing a 100 MW small modular reactor which is based on the design of the sodium-cooled Integral Fast Reactor operated at Argonne West in Idaho.

In July 2015 ARC Nuclear and New Brunswick Power (NB Power) agreed to work together to take the necessary steps to develop, license, and build an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) based on ARC Nuclear’s Gen IV sodium-cooled fast reactor technology.

ARC has made significant proprietary advances to the original design in order to create the ARC-100. The ARC-100 is a 100 MWe sodium-cooled, fast flux, pool type reactor with metallic fuel.

The ARC-100 design creates a “walk away” passive safety system that insures the reactor will never melt down even in a disaster that causes a complete loss of power to the plant site. In addition, it can be fueled with the nuclear waste produced by traditional reactors, and its 20 year refueling cycle offers new levels of proliferation resistance. The firm applied for a Phase 1 Review with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in Fall 2017.

First of a Kind Supply Chain Meeting for a Sodium Cooled Reactor in Canada

On September 12th, ARC Nuclear Canada, Inc. (ARC Canada), will welcome New Brunswick companies from across the province to participate in the New Brunswick First Supply Chain Roundtable. ARC Canada is a technology company with its Canadian headquarters in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

In 2018, the government of New Brunswick made an investment in a nuclear research cluster to advance small modular reactor technology. From both government and private investments, ARC Canada has now developed plans for its supporting manufacturing and supply chain.

The Supply Chain Roundtable event has been specifically designed to give New Brunswick companies an opportunity to get firsthand information on ARC Canada’s supply chain. Representatives from industry partners and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will hold sessions to provide participants with the most up-to-date information.

Registration is now open and there is no fee to attend. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. For further information please email To register for this event, visit

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