Polymetallic nodules are among the many submarine mineral resources whose use for the benefit of mankind requires exact knowledge of their properties, their environment and their methods of exploitation.
With this aim in early 1970, the Company "Le Nickel" ( SLN) and the National Center for the Exploitation of Oceans ( CNEXO), which became Ifremer (Institut Francais de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer), joined to study the feasibility of exploitation of submarine deposits of polymetallic nodules.
In 1974, the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique ( CEA) and the Chantiers de France-Dunkerque, which in the meantime became Chantiers du Nord et de la Méditerranée (NORMED), joined them to form a joint venture called Association Française d'Etude et de Recherche des NODules océaniques ( AFERNOD).
IFREMER and CEA merged in 1984 with TECHNICATOME, a 100 % subsidiary of CEA, within GEMONOD (Group to develop the necessary means for the exploitation of nodules) which led the development program of the technology of exploitation of nodules funded by the French government until 1988.
These studies were four coordinated but different objectives:
- Studying a comprehensive collecting system with its various components,
- Assessing the economic feasibility of a potential business from exploration to marketing of metals,
- The proposal of a complementary program of research and development including possible pilot tests necessary to demonstrate the technical feasibility of an exploitation project.
IFREMER provides overall management of the French program as a depository of government funds for studies on the nodules. Its leads by his own means, exploration of ore deposits, and on the request of engineers, the development of mining technology to meet the requirements of the mining laws. It continued GEMONOD work on mining technology. It runs basic research on the origin of nodules and their environment. It is the manager of AFERNOD.
AFERNOD centralizes and manages all the work and achievements on polymetallic nodules since 1970, whether obtained directly by the Association or made separately by each partner. This is particularly the case of studies that were conducted by GEMONOD on behalf of IFREMER and the CEA.
At the end of 1992, total current expenditure amounted to more than 800 million francs (1992), more than 95 % was funded by the government directly or through the annual budgets of state agencies (CEA and IFREMER).