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A cut-away model of the Superphenix containment. From the National Atomic Museum
Superphénix is located in France
Location of Superphénix in France
Official name Site nucléaire de Creys-Malville
Country France
Location Creys-Malville
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Status Closed
Construction began 1976
Commission date 1986
Decommission date 1997
Operator(s) NERSA, EDF (51%)
ENEL (33%)
SBK (16%)
Nuclear power station
Reactor type FBR
Reactor supplier Novatome
Fuel type MOX fuel
Cooling source Rhône River
Cooling towers no
Power generation
Make and model Ansaldo
Units decommissioned 1
Thermal capacity 3,000 MW
Nameplate capacity 1,242 MW
Annual generation 3,392 GWh

Superphénix (English: Superphoenix) or SPX was a nuclear power station on the river Rhône at Creys-Malville in France, close to the border with Switzerland. A fast breeder reactor, it produced electricity from 1986 until it halted electricity production in 1996 and was closed as a commercial plant in 1997.


Design work began in 1968, the same year as construction began for the smaller-scale LMFBR Phénix, following the abandonment of the graphite-gas designs. The fast breeder design was chosen in the face of fears of disruption to the supply of other fuels; the "plutonium economy" seemed viable if oil prices stayed high and uranium supplies dwindled. Construction was approved in 1972 and lasted from 1974 to 1981, but power production did not begin until 1985. Costs rose rapidly during construction. The plant was run by the consortium NERSA, 51% owned by EDF, 33% by ENEL and 16% by SBK (Schnell Brüter Kernkraftwerkgesellschaft).


The construction evoked much public protest. For example, a march by 60,000 protestors, which included the Anarchist group militant de la Fédération Anarchiste,[1] and resulted in the protestors use of molotov cocktails.[2][3] This July 1977 protest was finally broken up by the CRS with the death of Vital Michalon and over a hundred serious injuries, with the police using truncheons and firing tear gas grenades to disperse the protestors.[4][5]

Rocket attack

Against a background of ongoing protest and low-level sabotage, on the night of January 18, 1982 an RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade attack was launched against the unfinished plant. Five rockets were fired across the Rhône at the incomplete containment building. Two rockets hit and caused minor damage to the reinforced concrete outer shell, missing the reactor's empty core. Initially there were no claims of responsibility.[6]

On May 8, 2003, Chaïm Nissim, who in 1985 was elected to the Geneva cantonal government for the Swiss Green Party, eventually admitted carrying out the attack. He claimed that the weapons were obtained from Carlos the Jackal via the Belgian terrorist organisation Cellules Communistes Combattantes (Communist Combatant Cells).[7]

The Superphenix power plant


Designed electrical power output was 1.20 GW, though year to year its availability was from zero to 33%. As time passed, problems developed from another source: the liquid sodium cooling system suffered from corrosion and leaks. These problems were eventually fixed and in December 1996 the power reached 90% of the nominal power.[8]

In December 1990 structural damage occurred to the Turbine hall, following heavy snowfall. Power production did not resume until the Direction de la sûreté des installations nucléaires approved it in 1992.[9]

The plant was connected to EDF grid in 14 January 1986 and produced 4,300 GWh of electricity, worth about a billion 1995 Franc, during 10 months of operation, up until 1994. In 1996 it produced 3,400 GWh, worth about 850 million Francs, during 8 months of operation.[8]

In September 1998, the plant was closed. Two incidents earlier in the year had culminated in a third, which triggered an automatic shutdown.

During 11 years, the plant spent 63 months of normal operations, mostly at low power; 25 months of outages due to fixing technical problems of the prototype; and 66 months were spent on halt due to political and administrative issues.[8]


Superphénix had been a focus point of many groups opposed to nuclear power, including the green party Les Verts, since its planning and construction. A national network called Sortir du nucléaire was formed, bringing together hundreds of organisations: local committees, ecological associations, citizen movements and parties.

Power production was halted in December 1996 for maintenance. However, following a court case led by opponents of the reactor, on February 28, 1997 the Conseil d'État (Supreme State Administrative Court) ruled that a 1994 decree, authorizing the restart of Superphénix, was invalid. In June 1997, one of the first actions of Lionel Jospin on becoming Prime Minister was to announce the closure of the plant "because of its excessive costs". As Jospin's government included Green ministers, pro-nuclear critics argued that Jospin's decision was motivated by political motives.

Superphénix was the last fast breeder reactor operating in Europe for electricity production. According to a 1996 report by the French Accounting Office (Cour des Comptes), the total expenditure on the reactor to date was estimated at 60 billion francs (9.1 billion euro).[10]

The last of the 650 fuel rods was removed from the reactor on March 18, 2003. They are now stored in spent fuel pools.

A public inquiry was launched in April 2004 to consider plans to set up a plant to incorporate the 5,500 tonnes of sodium coolant in 70,000 tonnes of concrete. The plan is similar to that used following the closure of the Dounreay Fast Reactor in the United Kingdom.

See also


External links