Graphitech: dismantling graphite-fired power plants

The first nuclear power plants in France used graphite as a moderator. Long since shut down, this technology is extremely difficult to dismantle. This is because the graphite layers are stacked, and there is a huge amount of material involved: 20 to 30 times more than a current pressurized water reactor.

To meet this challenge, on December 10, 2019, EDF and VEOLIA, via their respective subsidiaries Cyclife and Asteralis (now Veolia Nuclear Solutions), announced the creation of a joint venture: Graphitech. Its aim is to solve the problem of dismantling graphite-based nuclear reactors.

Graphitech’s robotic challenge

EDF would contribute its nuclear and, above all, dismantling expertise, and VEOLIA its robotics skills. One of the challenges is to manage the remaining radioactivity in the core. This will involve designing remotely-operated machines (“tele-operated tools”) to cut out the “large, complex concrete and metal structures, and tools for extracting activated graphite bricks/stacks.”

The first mission will be to deliver a dismantling scenario for the first-generation Chinon A2 reactor by 2028.

A global market

There are currently 80 graphite-based reactors, the majority of which (around 50) have been shut down. Only two small-scale reactors, Fort Saint Vrain (USA) and Windscale (UK), have been dismantled. So this is a major global market.

The company and its progress

Based in Lyon, the company is headed by Estelle Desroches, with Stéphane Beguin as CEO. Sales in 2021 were €3,742,600.

On October 6, 2020, construction began on an industrial demonstrator enabling engineers to test the robots that will dismantle the graphite reactor at Chinon A2. They will operate mechanical arms remotely. The 2,500m² building was inaugurated on June 23, 2022. The importance of this demonstrator for nuclear technology has earned it the title of “IAEA Collaborative Center”.

A European project, INNO4GRAPH, brings together a consortium of 13 European players, including Graphitech and EDF, around the dismantling of graphite-moderated reactors.