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Eurodif, which means European Gaseous Diffusion Uranium Enrichment Consortium, is a subsidiary of the French company Orano, which operates a uranium enrichment plant established at the Tricastin Nuclear Power Center in Pierrelatte in Drôme. The nuclear site of Pierrelatte includes many nuclear installations, of which the largest are the Eurodif fuel factory and the Tricastin nuclear power station.
In 1973 France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden formed the joint stock company EURODIF. Sweden withdrew from the project in 1974. In 1975 Sweden's 10 per cent share in EURODIF was transferred to Iran as a result of an arrangement between France and Iran. The French government subsidiary company Cogema and the Iranian Government established the Sofidif (Société franco–iranienne pour l'enrichissement de l'uranium par diffusion gazeuse) enterprise with 60 per cent and 40 per cent shares, respectively. In turn, Sofidif acquired a 25 per cent share in EURODIF, through which Iran attained its 10 per cent share of EURODIF.
In 1974, the Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, lent $1 billion (and another $180 million in 1977) for the construction of the factory, in order to have the right to buy 10% of the production. Iran remains a shareholder of Eurodif via Sofidif. The Franco-Iranian consortium shareholder still owns 25% of Eurodif.
In 1986, Eurodif manager Georges Besse was assassinated; the act was allegedly part of an Iranian campaign to blackmail France after pulling out of the agreement between Eurodif and Iran (see Eurodif and Iran's nuclear program); the act was also allegedly claimed by left-wing militants from Action Directe, but they denied any responsibility during their trial.
Naturally occurring uranium contains 0.7% of uranium 235. Currently, it is enriched up to 5% by a gas diffusion process using uranium hexafluoride (UF6). France plans to abandon the gas diffusion process currently used by the Eurodif factory for a centrifuge process. The project announced by Areva NC to make the change was the subject of a public discussion in the Rhône-Alpes region from September 1 to October 22, 2004. The advantage of the new process is that it is more energy efficient: Eurodif currently uses the power generated by all three (2,700 MW) of Tricastin's nuclear reactors for uranium enrichment, whereas the centrifuge-based plant could make similar amounts of uranium with only 50 MW.
Dismantling the original Eurodif facility is planned to be completed by the end of 2020.
- "Jean-Louis Bruguière, un juge d'exception" (in French). Voltaire Network. April 29, 2004.