First quarter of 1999

Belgium: Scheduled End to Reprocessing and to MOX Use

WISE-Paris, 21 January 1999

[Posted 21/01/1999]

Following is a Belga (Belgian National Press Agency) report about a press conference on Friday 4 December 1998 by Deputy-Prime Minister of Belgium Jean-Pol Poncelet (who is in charge of Defense and of Energy) concerning reprocessing contracts with the French COGEMA and MOX (mixed oxides) fuel use in Belgium. No written document was issued during the press conference. The only written document which was available from the Press Department of Mr. Poncelet is the Belga press report.
Following the press report is a comment by WISE-Paris, on the basis of a phone conversation with a representative of the press department.

"Nuclear Issues: No More MOX for Belgian Power Plants (New Version)"

Translation by WISE-Paris

BRUSSELS - 4 December 1998 (Belga)

The Federal Government has definitely renounced to the 1991 contract with the French reprocessing plant operated by COGEMA, at La Hague, concerning the reprocessing of 225 tonnes of nuclear waste from the Tihange and Doel plants, stated Jean-Pol Poncelet, the Energy Minister, on friday.

"In order to avoid possible fines for not respecting a contract, we had to decide before 31 December, date at which a conctract which was suspended five years ago would be valid again. We prefered to renounce to it definitely. At the current state of the information we have concerning economic and ecological aspects, there is no justification to use another time the reprocessing technology". detailed Mr. Poncelet during a press conference. Apart from about 17 tonnes of waste remaining to be reprocessed according to two old contracts signed in 1976 (140 tonnes) and in 1978 (530 tonnes), Belgium will not send any more spent fuel to be reprocessed at La Hague and will not recuperate MOX, nor enriched plutonium produced during the reprocessing processes and used in the plants near Antwerp and Huy [the Belgian nuclear power plants are at Doel near Antwerp and at Tihange near Huy]. "ONDRAF (Waste and Fissile Materials National Agency) has a year to study the question of using or not using MOX. Until then, spent fuel will stay in the storage pools. For the plants, going back to uranium is not a problem", said the Minister. The ecologist organisation Greenpeace reacted in favor of this decision, underlining the dangers - linked to the hundreds of shipments of dangerous nuclear waste - which would be avoided. More generally, the Energy Minister wants to launch in the mid-term a large debate on the future of nuclear power. In this respect, he intends to install in the coming weeks an expert commission in order to study the different solutions to ensure the future of electricity generation in Belgium. "Our nuclear power plants are currently just more than twenty years old and have therefore just been subject to decennial maintenance works. In less than ten years from now, we will have to decide of possible new options, be they keeping or not nuclear power, intensive use of gas - the resources of which are greater than those of oil - combined generation of electricity and heat - which is highly efficient - or intensive development of windpower", detailed Mr. Poncelet. This commission will submit its report in a year's time. At that time, in fact, "we will have at our disposal objective data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the results of studies which are being carried out in the framework of OECD, which should be finished by mid-1999", also said Mr Poncelet.

These declarations are very important. The Belgian government has officially mentioned the possible phase-out of the nuclear programme, as well as the end to the spent fuel management policy of reprocessing and use of MOX from the recuperated plutonium. These declarations are all the more surprising since they come from Energy Minister Mr. Poncelet, who has worked in the nuclear industry on plutonium issues and has even been head of the board of the national nuclear waste and fissile materials organisation ONDRAF.
ONDRAF is the administrative authority in charge of reprocessing of spent fuel and MOX use.

WISE-Paris had a phone conversation with Mr. Henderick Vincent, the press representative of Mr. Poncelet, to ask for more information. As mentioned in Plutonium Investigation no. 9 concerning Belgium, a five-year moratorium was taken in 1993 by the House of Representatives concerning decisions on reprocessing and on further MOX use. Notably, the moratorium forbade the confirmation of a further reprocessing contract which had been signed in 1991. As stated in Plutonium Investigation, the House of Representatives had requested the Government to organise a parliamentary debate based on an official report before the end of year 1998 to discuss and decide once again on the subjects related to the moratorium. Mr. Vincent stated that in order to be able to take into account the results of future IAEA and OECD reports in the Government's reports, the Government had decided to postpone of at most a year the parliamentary debate and the preliminary submittal of the Government's report. The press representative also stated that the Minister's decisions do not apply to the first reprocessing contracts (the spent fuel of which has almost entirely been reprocessed at La Hague) nor to the plutonium recuperated from this reprocessing. Consequently, it is only once all the plutonium produced at La Hague from the spent fuel reprocessed according to the two first contracts has been used as MOX fuel that MOX use should be put to an end in Belgium.

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