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France will use two nuclear reactor to empower “weapons of deterrence”, meaning thermonuclear bombs



A new stage in France’s rearmament and deterrence policy. And it’s a big one. While Emmanuel Macron once again asserted last week that Europeans must be ready to “respond” to a military “escalation” by Russia, France is beefing up its nuclear arsenal.

On Monday, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces announced a “collaboration” with the EDF to use the power of the two nuclear reactors at the Civaux power plant to produce tritium, “a rare gas essential to the weapons of deterrence,” with the CEA, according to a press release. The announcement follows a visit by Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu to Civaux, Vienne.

In a separate press release, EDF said it had been “approached by the French government to set up an irradiation service at the Civaux nuclear power plant, in support of CEA,” the French Atomic Energy Commission, for this “complementary ancillary activity [which] will be added to the main mission of electricity production.”.

In other words, the French government wants to be able to count on a system that is redundant with that of the CEA. To ensure the most robust redundancy possible, both of the plant’s reactors will be involved. EDF will therefore receive irradiation material at Civaux, where it will be assembled into bundles, which will be loaded into the reactor cores for a production cycle of around seven months before being removed and dismantled. The tritium will then be sent to the CEA. The project is due to start next year.

Although already in use in the USA, this use of civilian production facilities for deterrence purposes is a first in France. Civaux will be the only French power plant to be mobilized for such production.

“This new activity, which contributes to the sovereignty of both our industry and our defense, is good news for the local industrial fabric, whose excellence is recognized,” sums up the Ministry of the Armed Forces.

“The Civaux plant was chosen for technical reasons and because it is the youngest plant in service, with the greatest capacity to continue operating for the longest possible period,” said Etienne Dutheil, EDF’s Director of Nuclear Generation, in a conference call.

Why  tritium is so important

Tritium is necessary for the construction of thermonuclear weapons because it is an essential part of the so-called “binary warhead.” A thermonuclear bomb consists of a fission trigger made of enriched uranium or, currently, plutonium, and then of a part consisting of heavy hydrogen isotopes, often in combination with lithium. The fission part of the device, by exploding, provides the energy for the hydrogen isotopes to achieve fusion, thus generating a much greater amount of energy.

If deuterium, a rare heavy hydrogen isotope, is found in nature, even in trace amounts, radiation from it will produce tritium. Tritium has a very short lifetime. Paradoxically, there is too much of it in the slightly contaminated water released at Fukushima.

This announcement comes at a time when France is taking an offensive stance towards Russia. With Vladimir Putin constantly raising the threat of nuclear conflict, Emmanuel Macron responded: “We must feel particularly protected, because we are precisely that power that has ‘the atomic bomb’. We are ready. We have an established doctrine,” he said last Thursday, referring to France’s “responsibility” to “never escalate.”.

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