Year 1998

COGEMA is Storing Illegally More than 100,000 m3 of Foreign Radioactive Waste on the French Territory

WISE-Paris, 29 October 1998

[Posted 29/10/1998]

During the last 22 years, reprocessing at La Hague of foreign spent nuclear fuel has generated more than 100,000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste, according to an assessment made by WISE-Paris. Almost all of this waste is stored illegally on the French territory.

According to the 30 December 1991 Act, "the storage of imported radioactive waste in France, even if it has been reprocessed on the French territory, is prohibited beyond the necessary technical delays due to its reprocessing" (Art. 3). The technical delay is due to the cooling of the waste, which is only required for the vitrified high-level radioactive waste - less than 10% of the total volume, needing a maximum 5 years delay. However, not a single package of intermediate -or low-level radioactive waste has been sent back to COGEMA's foreign clients.

Facing black-out from COGEMA and its responsible ministries not giving any information concerning the volume of waste to be attributed to its clients, WISE-Paris has decided to publish its own assessment (See annexed table).

A large share of the volume of the so-called low-level radioactive waste is already definitely buried at the Centre de Stockage de la Manche, operated by the French national waste management agency ANDRA. This storage contains notably all the waste of this category due to the operation of the reprocessing plants from their start-up in 1976 to 1990. During this period, more than half of the oxide spent fuel which was reprocessed was of foreign origin. Furthermore, part of the waste due to foreign reprocessing is bulk-stored at La Hague under poor safety conditions, waiting for a new packaging.

COGEMA indicates it wants to send back other "equivalent" radioactive waste in exchange for the waste which is buried in France. This exchange between waste which was generated at least ten years ago and waste which was generated recently according to new technologies, is much in favor of the foreign clients and goes against the engagements of the French State (see below). Currently, COGEMA is even proposing to its foreign customers to keep all of the low-level radioactive waste in France.

Today, more than twenty years after the beginning of foreign reprocessing (from Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany and Spain), only five shipments of high-level radioactive waste have been made towards Germany (two) and towards Japan (three), corresponding to 258 cubic meters, that is 2.5% of the total high-level radioactive waste or 0.22% of the total waste volume to be sent back.

Lacking precise data from COGEMA (inventory of waste generated per reprocessing campaign and per client), WISE-Paris has made its own assessment of the waste volumes . This assessment is based on the quantity of waste which was reprocessed as of 1 March 1998 for each country. The estimated volume corresponds to the volume of generated solid waste, adding to it the volume of over-containers for transport and final storage. The total estimate - that is more than 600,000 cubic meters of foreign waste - also takes into account the decommissioning waste, as well as the virtual volume which would be generated if COGEMA did not discharge liquid nor gaseous radioactive effluents, but instead used existing methods for its concentration and solidification to transform them into solid waste.

This table does not give any value for the waste generated for the reprocessing of metallic spent fuel (magnox type fuel). Metallic fuel from France and Spain has been reprocessed at La Hague until the middle of the 1980s. Spanish waste stored at La Hague should also be sent back to its origin country.

Declaration of Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then Minister responsible for Industry, on 25 June 1991, at the French National Assembly (Parliament). Mr. Strauss-Kahn is the current Minister for Economy, Finances and Industry.

"I will be very clear. Intergovernmental agreements have been signed and are taken into account in clauses in the commercial agreements with COGEMA: foreign reprocessing waste in France will go back to their origin country. The first waste packages will go back in 1993-1994 to Japan. While a clause was introduced in these agreements which planned for a possible exchange - that is that we received a kind of waste that we processed but that other waste could be sent back - and if anyone fears the realization of such an exchange, I want to reassure the National Assembly, and with it the whole population: this clause was introduced at France's request which thought that it might be to its advantage. Because of the problems which have appeared since, it will not be applied. "In short, it is true that France uses its reprocessing plants to reprocess foreign waste but I assure you, in the name of the Government, that this waste will go back when the delays required for their cooling down will be ended. All this waste will be sent back in its entirety to its country of origin."

Contact: Mycle Schneider, Yves Marignac
phone: +33-1- 45 65 47 93

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