France Funds Recycling of Radioactive Lubes


France Funds Recycling of Radioactive Lubes
Cooling towers in action at a nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France. Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH

A pilot plant in France to purify polyether-perfluorinated lubricants contaminated by uranium is among the projects earmarked for funding by the French government as part of a search for innovations in the management of radioactive waste.

The country relies heavily on nuclear power for electricity, and the national government has stated its intent to support development of small modular reactors that can supply energy safely.

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In June 2021 the government invited proposals for innovative solutions for the management of radioactive material and waste and the search for alternatives to deep geological disposal for such materials, with €72 million total available to help fund the projects chosen.

Forty-nine proposals were received, and this month 40 of those were selected to receive funding, including a pilot plant project called D-Perle, by Orano. The France-based company is active across the entire nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium exploration and mining, conversion and enrichment of uranium, treatment and recycling of spent fuel, dismantling and engineering activities.

According to a government press kit, the D-Perle project aims to develop a purification pilot plant for polyether-perfluorinated lubricants used in nuclear facilities in France. The government noted that the expensive inorganic polymers and high-performance lubricants are contaminated with uranium after use and remain without a treatment channel that would allow a wider use of the lubricants, as well as opportunities inside and outside the nuclear industry.

Polyether based fluids are characterized by their thermal stability, oxidation stability, low vapor pressure and radiation resistance. They are commonly used for lubricating vacuum pump and compressor bearings and for pumping fluorine.

The innovation promotion program is administered by the French Agency for Ecological Transition; French bank Bpifrance; and the French National Research Agency, which provides funding for scientific research by academic institutions, universities and private companies.

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