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Nuclear Weapons Research, Development, Testing, Production and Naval Nuclear Propulsion Facilities: France

Centre d'Etudes de Bruyeres-le-Chatel (CEB)

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This research center is situated 35 km south of Paris, west of Arpajon in the Essone. It was established in 1957 and occupies 35 hectares. The Centre's activities include research on metallurgy, chemistry, electronics, seismology, toxicology, and the diagnostic measurement of nuclear explosions.

Centre d'Etudes de Limeil-Valenton
Located in Villeneuvre-Sain-Georges, 15 km southeast of Paris, this is "France's Los Alamos" the central weapon design laboratory. The site is an ancient fortress that was appropriated for atomic weapons work on 3 September 1951. The first French nuclear device was assembled there, at Batterie de Limeil, and on 1 January 1960 it became Centre d'Etudes de Limeil. It expanded until it overran the commune of Valenton, and now comprises 12.5 hectares. It has a staff of about 950.

Centre d'Etudes de Valduc
This research center is "France's Pantex", the site were weapons are actually assembled and disassembled. It is near Is-sur-Tille on the Cote-d'Or, 25 km north of Dijon. It was established in 1958. In 1986 it employed over 1000 people. In addition to weapons manufacture, it processes waste products from weapons manufacture and conducts high pressure research on nuclear materials (e.g. plutonium). It is equipped with a high pressure gas gun for shock compression studies.

Centre d'Etudes de Vaujours-Moronvilliers
Located 17 km northwest of Paris at Vaujours in the Seine-Saint-Denis, this Centre was created in 1955. It performs explosive and high pressure research. It is equipped with shock tubes and high pressure light gas guns.

Centre d'Etudes du Ripault
Located in Mont-sur-Guesnes, in the Indre-et-Loire, 30 km south of Chinon, this center manufactures high explosives components (detonators, insensitive and liquid high explosives, etc.), performs stockpile maintenance functions, and has an accident response team. It was established in 1962 and now occupies 103 hectares. It has over 80,000 square meters of buildings and employs about 800 people.

Centre d'Etudes Scientifiques et Techniques d'Aquitaine (CESTA)
This research center is located in Le Barp in the Gironde, 30 km southwest of Bordeaux. It is France's equivalent of Sandia Laboratories - it performs militarization and production engineering functions for warhead designs developed by Limeil-Valenton. It was established in 1965 and occupies 700 hectares in the forest between Bordeaux and Arcachon.

La Hague
A second plutonium separation plant called UP2 was built at La Hague near Cherbourg in Normandy. UP2 started operation in 1966, and can handle 800 tonnes of spent fuel a year.

The main facility for the production of plutonium for military purposes is the complex located at Marcoule, in the commune of Bagnols-sur-Ceze in the Gard. Founded in 1952, Marcoule was equipped with France's first plutonium production reactor, the natural uranium fueled, graphite moderated, gas-cooled G1 reactor, and its first plutonium separation plant, known as UP1. Larger versions of the G1 known as G2 and G3, 250 MW each, were built in the mid-late fifties. These three reactors accounted for about half of France's total military plutonium production. Also located Marcoule are the 190 MW (thermal) Celestin I and II reactors, and the Phenix prototype breeder reactor. The Celestin reactors are heavy water designs fueled with plutonium (originally) and later with enriched uranium. These reactors have been used for civilian isotope, tritium, and military plutonium production. The 563 MW (thermal) Phenix was intended as a prototype for larger breeder power reactors, but its plutonium production appears to have been primarily for military purposes.

Phenix started operation in 1973 and is still in service. It could have produced up to 1400 kg of military plutonium by the end of 1997, but actual production is probably substantial less.

France's uranium enrichment plant is located near the village of Pierrelatte (Drome), on the Rhone river about 80 miles northeast of Marseille. The plant uses gaseous diffusion. The gaseous diffusion program began in 1953,and following a successful demonstration of a pilot plant at Saclay in 1958, approval for a full-scale plant was given. A diffusion barrier plant was built in 1960. In 1964 the first of four sections of the plant became operational, producing 2% enriched uranium. The next three sections reached full operation in late 1965, early 1966, and April 1967. when the fourth and last section became operational the plant became producing weapon grade uranium. Only the last two sections remain in operation today.

Construction on UP1 began July 1955 and the plant reached full operation in January 1958. UP1 employs the Purex solvent extraction process. By August 1984 it had reprocessed over 10,000 tonnes of gas-cooled reactor fuel and separated more than 2.5 tonnes of military plutonium.