SCIENTIFIC INTELLIGENCE REPORT -- THE FRENCH NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM

Created: 11/13/1959

OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible

Scientific infelligence Report

THE FRENCH NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM

NOTICE

The conclusions, judgments, and opinions contained in this finished intelligence report are based on extensive scientific intelligence research and represent the final andviews of the Office of Scientific

9

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

OFFICE OF SCIENTIFIC INTELLIGENCE

THE FRENCH NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM

PROBLEM

To assess French capability to produce fissionable material and to develop, test, and produce nuclear weapons; and tothe likely timing ol the first French nuclearest.

"S

rance began research and development activities In atomic energy that hadfor nuclear weapons8 France decided to complete the development and testinguclear weapon and coulduclear weapon by

CONCLUSIONS

of plutoniumear by0 and toilograms ofear5

rance has sufficient uranium orefor Its planned program and has in3 reactorshemicalplant for the production of plutonium. France probably hadoilograms of plutonium suitable for weapons purposes by9 and could Increase the production

gaseous diffusion plant is beingPlerrclatte and should enable theproduce uranium enriched3 percent bysuitable for weaponsbe produced ln small quantities

French nuclear weapons testIs located at Reggane InDesert, and the test range Isbe aboutiles almost due southThe first test will probably betower shot of an all-plutonlumweapon yielding aboutllotons

SUMMARY

fter several years of basic research, the Frenchear plan forenergy development. The major aim of this plan was the establishmentargeproduction facility. Such productioneneral Intention to developweapons, but weapons development did not receive public support and high priorityow the French apparentlytoest regardless of any East-West test ban agreement by the presentpowers.

Construction work on the plutoniumcenter, begun4 at MarcouJe in the Rhone Valley near Avignon, was completed inhe major facilities atre three natural uranium, graphitereactorshemical separation plant (or the separation of plutonium from irradiated uranium. The French probably had obtained aboutoilograms offrom these facilities byhen In full operation, probably latehe Marcoule center will be able to produceilograms of plutonium per year. The production of plutonium could be increased toilograms per year5 upon completion of the announced nuclear power reactor program. The present French nuclear weapons capability is limited to those weapons using plutonium as the basic fissionable material.

Inhe French decided to incur the large expense of building their own gaseous diffusion plant for the production of enrichedull scale gaseous diffusion plant is being erected at Pierrelatte,iles south of MonteUmar on the Rhone River. Plans call for the plant to be in partial operationears and in full productionearsa product enrichedoercent. Additional stages may be added to the plant later toroduct of higher enrichment suitable for weapons purposes.

Nuclear weapons research and development was carried on for several years before the French publicly announced their intentions to proceed with the actual fabrication andof nuclear weapons. The French havesought Information and support inweapons design and testfrom the United States and Unitedbut the support received has been limited largely to unclassified Information and test equipment. Therefore, the first Frenchwill be the product of an almostnative effort.

Little information is available on actual French nuclear weapons research andand the principal scientists involved have never been identified It is believed that the Department de Techniques Souvelles (DTN) of the FrenchEn-ergie Atomujue (CEA) has responsibility for the overall development of nuclear weapons. The centers at Bruyere-le-Chatel. Vaujours, Saclay. and Paris (Fort d'Issy) may be doing research and development on the non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons under or for the DTN. "The French have had sufficient time to develop or acquire the non-nuclear components for these weapons. Because only small quantities of plutonium are available at the present time. It is likely that the first nuclear weapon to be tested by the French will be an implosion type.

The weapons tests have been delayedombination of technical difficulties infissionable material. Although the chemical separation plant was completed int did not reach production scaleuntil aboutnd weapons grade plutonium did not become available until the summer of

DISCUSSION

From the beginning of the French nuclear energy program in8 untilhe French government and the majority of the French people were strongly opposed to the development of nuclear weapons by France. Nevertheless,2 (theof theear plan for nuclearapid development of nuclearhas taken place In France, and certain

sections of the military have claimed4 that the Frenchuclear bomb for adequate defense. Some preliminaryresearch may have been started6 France had the economic andcapability lo proceed with theof nuclear weapons.'1 Apparently the decision to proceed with the manufacture of nuclear weapons came after the humiliating Anglo-French withdrawal from Suezince General de Gaulle came to power lnis determination toFrench stature and Independence in NATO and the Increased feeling amongand government officialseedative nuclear deterrent to protect vital French Interests have made it highly probable that France will proceed with theand testing of nuclear weaponsof any East-West test ban agreed upon by the present nuclear powers.

AVAILABILITY OF URANIUM

France obtains most of Its uranium from domestic sources, although small quantities are imported fromrench possession. Major uranium deposits areat La Crousllle near Lemogea, Vendee In Brittany, Grury In Saone et Loire. Fores, and possibly at Lachaux, southeast of Vichy. Extensive exploration for new deposits isout throughout France. Algeria,and French West Africa. French proven reserves of uranium oxide amount0 tons with possible unproven reserves of0ons. Present French production ot uranium oxide amountsons per yearlanned productiononsonsonshus, France should be capable of meeting the uranium requirements of its planned reactor program from native sources.

PIUTONIUM PRODUCTION

The first French research reactor (Zoe)operation at Chatlllon in8 Basic research on the extraction of plutonium from uranium was undertaken concurrently, and0 the first milligrams of plutonium in theformurified salt had been obtained.

| was decided toilot plant at Chatlllon for the extraction ofIrom irradiatedhe pilot plant was completed in4 by the St. Gobain Chemical Company fjfan ufacfarei des Clactl et Produits Chimiques de St.his pilot facilityolventplant using mixer-settlers, andbout one gram of plutonium had been extracted from the uranium rods taken from the Zoe reactor'

Apparently the decision was made2 to follow the "plutonium path" andplutonium in quantities sufficient for weapons, sinceear Plan called for the establishmentarge plutoniumcenter. Preliminaryere made, and actual construction of. She plutonium production facility was begun4 at Marcoule, in the Rhone Valley near Avignon. The major facilities at Marcoule include three natural uranium, graphite moderated, gas-cooled reactorshemical separation plant. The reactors are designed primarily to produce plutonium, with electric powera by-product.

The first of these plutonium producingG-l, went into operation. Itesigned power level ofhermal megawatts and is generally similar to. Brookhaven pile.he reactor has been running at only abouthermal megawatts because ofencountered from fuel elementThe annual production of plutonium byeactor was expected to be aboutilograms, but because it is operating at reduced power levels, it Is not expected that this production rate will be achieved. The first set of fuel rods were irradiatednd removed ln* An experimental power generator was installedy Etectricitie de France for the production of electricity. The generatoraximum installed power oflectrical megawatts, and it first produced electricity In the fall

Tbe second and third reactors at, are of Identical design. They are natural uranium reactors, using graphiteoderator, and are cooled by pressurized carbonent into operation on8 and by9 hadower level sufficient to produce 9of by-product electricity. At full scale operation, It willower level ofhermal megawatts, permitting theof aboutilograms of plutonium per year andoegawatts of by-product electricity.ent Into operation In June

lt is expected that the powerbe Increased progressively until It isscale operation sometimethree reactors at Marcoule are in fullthe annual plutonium outputbeilograms Insomeegawatts of electricity winThe accompanying tableestimated plutonium productionthe French reactors at Marcoule.

The first French nuclear power station Is under construction at Avolne, Just north of Chinon. It is scheduled to start operating In

reactor, calleds amoderated, gas-cooled reactor andan estimated electrical output ofConstruction of additionalis planned, and currentW of Installed capacity byof the nuclear power reactors willquantities of plutonium as aUpon completion of thepower program. French reactorshould have the capacityilcajrams of plutonium per year

PLUTONIUM EXTRACTION

ConstrueUon work on the ChemicalPlant at Marcoule was begunnd the plant was Inaugurated In8 by Oeneral de Oaulle. Iturex-type solvent extraction plant for plutonium and uranium recovery. The overall processmixer-settlers and utilizes trtbutylas the solvent and nitric acid as the salting agent. The plutonium product Is an oxalate salt that Is converted to metal at an adjacent plutonium metal reductionspite of earlier pilot plant work atconsiderable delay apparently *wasin getting the separation-plantThe nature of the iroubleaplsH

lograro quantities ol plutonium probably did not become available for weaponspurposes until the summer

)tjt

URANIUM ISOTOPE SEPARATION

As the French nuclear program developed, it became clear that the possessionas essential Research on Isotopewas initiated at Saclaynd7 the first of two pilot plant facilities was begun. The first Saclay pilotstage installation used lo test gaseousbarriers. Barriers could be tested in both tubular and flat shapes. The. second plant at Saclay was larger andstages of prototype cellsype planned for the first full-scale plant.'

7 the CEA also secured anofillionor initial construction workull scalediffusion plant. France attempted to in--terest the EURATOM partners In Jointof this full scale gaseous diffusion plant Only the Italians showed interest, they are reported to have offered tentativelyillion toward the projectFrance decided8 to Incur the expense of building Its own plant. Oround was broken for this facility In the fall8 at Pierrelatte,iles south of Montelimar. between two hydroelectric dams on the Rhone River. The total cost of the Installation is to be aroundillion francs

ConversionMsM.

Plans call for the plant to be Inears and to be in full productionears. The plant Is expected to treatons of natural uranium per year,ilograms of product enrichedoercent. This product will be suitable for Increasing the efficiency of French reactors but not sufB-

ESTIMATED FRENCH FLTJTONITJM PRODUCTION AT MARCOULE OPXRATINO CAPACITT IH THERMALATTS (TMW)

eactor

Total TMW (year end)

150

s_

Jan"ul U

MM M

10

PLUTONIUM EXTRACTED FROM IRRADIATED FUEL (In kilograms)

eactor

3 Reactor

Reactor

Plutonium Extracted

PuRatraeted (year end)

AuumpUona:

ay opereUng year for each reactor.

lrrsdtaUon levelo end7 wasrami of plutonium per Ion of fuel, and thereO percent unloadingt end or im

Irradiation level lor each reactorrams ol plutonium per ton ol fuel.

Intake ol Irradiated aluga at the Chemlcsl Separation Plantons pero plutonium conversion ratio1

cienUy enriched for weapons, plans areconsidered, but no decision has been made as *et, for building additional stages toroduct of higher enrichment suitable for weapons purposes. Papers presented by the French at the. Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy,nd reports by US. scientists who have visited the Saclay pilot plant Indicate that thework on gaseous diffusion has been very sound. Three types of barrier (alumina, nickel, and teflon) have been developed by the French, but it Is not known which of these win be used in their full-scale plant.

WEAPONS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT Nuclear weapons research has been carat on in Francejor the

B Officially, the DTN Is organizationally subordinate to the FrenchEnergie Atomujue (CEA) and has the responsibility for theof nuclear weapons, yet It appears in fact tooint CEA-NaUonal Defensewith policy direction givenpecial nuclear committee within the French Government. The following organizations are probably doing research and development on nuclear weapons under or for the DTN.

a. Pwearch Center of Bruyere-le-Chatel (Centre d'Etudes de Bruyere*le<hatel),near Arpajonas5 and Is directed by Mr. (fnu) Laurent" It has been reported that this center does theoretical and applied studies of the critical mass of nuclear explosions and prepares models of weapons.11

b. Armament Research andDirectorate {Direction des EtudesEFA,rench Army organization which ln collaboration with the Powder Service (Services de Poudres) Is reported to have done research andofhe electronicof DEFA are located at Fort dTsay, and the headquarters of the chemical section of DEFA are located at St Cloud. The DEFA also has an atomfc section, which is headed by Professor Paul fhanson. reported to be one of the guiding liglts for the construction of an atomic bomb.'W

c. Nuclear Research Center at Saclay is reported to conduct theoretical studies on critical masses arsdj studies of neutronSaclay Is jfce largest research center in the French nuclear program

d Research Center at Vaujours (Centres located at thefort of Vaujours, east of Paris, and Is directed by Engineer-in-Chieft beganf

NUCLEAR WEAPONS.eneral dc

Gaulle made it ftjpwn that be was anxious for France touclear test as soon asut technical difficultiescaused significant delays in theof plutonium suitable for weapons purposes. These difficulties were largely with chemical separajj"" "dtrtv Dlutonlum" '

lthough the Marcoule chemical separation plant was completed Int did not start production scale operation until9 because of unidentifieddifficulties. This time scalethat there would not be sufficientfor weapons fabrication before

Because of the limited quantities ofmetal available to the French, their first nuclear weapon probably will be of the implosion type. The French nuclear weap-

* "Dtrtvhat considered lessfor weapons purposes rimer became ol residual lit, left by ihe eheroical separationor ihe presence of tooercentage o!ns opposed to Pu-ZSB).

ons capability will be limited to weapons using plutonium. unless they are provided with fully en rigy the United States or United Kingdom or decide to enlarge the isotope separation plant presently under(now scheduled to produce only slightly enrichedhey probably could not have the capability for producing highlyighlyould be necessary to develop composite weapons. Including the moretypes.

French test as

sophisticated as possible In order to meetrequirements for securing ariweapons information from* tte

Reggane In the) Is the headquarters for French testA new interservice test center was scheduled for completion near Reggane in the fall" The cornmandei^jhla eater was toFrench Air. Fc^ceSfifl'el. whose superior was ArmyCharles Ailleret, Chief of Special Arms qf .the French Armed Forces. An airstrip constructed at Regganeajor airfield at Aajulef, someiles northnortheast. meket 6Je airlift of supplies and personnelhe test range is believed to beiles almost due south of Regganeemote part of the Sahara.

Original document.

Comment about this article or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA