Third quarter of 1999
Letter to Birgitta Dahl, Speaker of the Swedish Parliament
By Mycle Schneider, Director of
WISE-Paris, Paris, 7 July 1999
Madame Speaker, Dear Birgitta Dahl,
8 December 1997, I told you - over lunch - that the Swedish utility
OKG had gone ahead with the separation of several hundred kilograms
of plutonium at the UK Sellafield site. You were stunned. Obviously
you had not been aware of the project and, at first, did not even want
to believe me.
only hours earlier, the OKG fuel manager had flatly declared to me that
his company had the license for reprocessing the fuel since it had signed
the contract almost 30 years ago and did not need to ask for permission
"each time the government changes".
SKI official told me today that "the government did not have the
choice to say no". Is that so? If yes, it seems that the nuclear
industry continues to make its own rules. If not, I still dont
understand why the government and other influential political
forces in Sweden - did not prevent the separation of plutonium in the
first Article of the Swedish Constitution reads "all public power
in Sweden proceeds from the people", as you recalled in your speech
at the Right Livelihood Award ceremony 1997, a few hours after we had
lunch. Where has been the "important role of parliaments",
which you focused on in your talks with Boris Yeltsin at the time, in
the case of the Swedish plutonium issue?
the 1980s you were instrumental in putting together Sweden's spent fuel
management policy based on direct storage rather than the development
of a plutonium economy. When I expressed my concern to you over the
OKG plan to return the plutonium in the form of MOX fuel and to use
it in Swedish reactors, you told me that while the plutonium separation
had happened outside the country in a way beyond Swedish direct
control - this would be quite different if OKG intended to bring the
fuel back to the country. You made it very clear that you intended to
make your voice being heard on the issue.
OKG has made a formal application into MOX fuel use at its reactor site.
Over 830 kg of plutonium shall be fabricated into MOX fuel and then
be introduced into one of the OKG reactors. (Strangely enough, OKGs
fuel manager had told me in December 1997, that the amount of plutonium
recovered from the reprocessing at Sellafield was limited to about 600
parallel, SVAFO AB submitted an application for the reprocessing, also
at Sellafield, of 5 tons of spent fuel from the R1 reactor. The reprocessing
of that material would lead to the separation of about 1.2 kg of excellent
weapon plutonium (more than 97% Pu-239, so called super grade plutonium).
The plan is to mix the plutonium with the Oskarshamn plutonium and send
it back in the form of MOX fuel. The MOX should then be introduced into
Oskarshamn after 2003.
few days ago SKI made a positive recommendation concerning both of the
projects to the government. According to SKI, the application for the
R1 fuel is with the Foreign Minister, the one concerning the OKG fuel
with the Environment Minister. SKI representatives refused to make any
political statement on their decision, arguing that they had only evaluated
the safety case of the plans.
my speech of acceptance of the Right Livelihood Award at the Swedish
Parliament "which could be called the cradle of Swedish
democracy", as you reminded the audience - in December 1997, I
declared in your presence: "Let me take this opportunity to urge
the Swedish Parliament and the Swedish government to take appropriate
action, now, to prevent at least the implementation of a Swedish MOX
plan. Sweden could still be trend-setting again if it did firmly decide
on a scheme which provides for conditioning and storage of its plutonium
as radioactive waste."
have not been heard as it turns out. I would be extremely interested
to find out why not. Aware of the problem, why did your powerful influential
voice remain silent?
it is not too late. It is obvious that the return of plutonium fuel
into Sweden is a highly political matter bypassing by far the technical
issues involved. And bypassing by far national borders. Swedish politicians
have shown great sensitivity in the past to their international influence
on important matters of human rights, as well as environmental and political
there are technical arguments in favor of reprocessing of the R1 fuel.
It has aluminum cladding, the fuel is in bad condition, etc. Yes, it
is the easiest option to deal with the now separated plutonium and go
for MOX fuel. But any of those problems can be solved or circumvented.
Sweden did not hesitate to swap some of its spent fuel which was under
a reprocessing contract for spent MOX fuel. It is clear that therefore
some Swedish fuel will be or has been reprocessed on behalf of German
utilities. Also most of the Swedish spent fuel reprocessing contracts
have been only subcontracted to other utilities. Intriguingly, the Swedish
utility representatives have continued to sit in COGEMAs "base
load customer" meetings.
under your leadership, has gone onto a no-plutonium path for good reasons.
Plutonium is a highly radiotoxic substance, it is highly proliferating
and, as a consequence, it should be treated as waste. Any use of the
material is the wrong political signal giving the illusion of its potential
not taking back the unreprocessed R1 fuel and store it until there is
a final storage scheme or, at least, swap it against other equivalent
spent fuel (see the German MOX precedent)?
not having the OKG plutonium mixed with high level waste and have it
declared waste for final disposal? The differences between spent MOX
fuel in a final repository as compared to spent LWR fuel might be bigger
than the difference of plutonium-bearing vitrified high level waste
storage and spent LWR fuel storage.
argues that first, there is no Swedish high level vitrified waste and
second, there wont be any in future since OKG has no obligation
to take back the waste from the reprocessing of its spent fuel at Sellafield.
This is certainly a commercially correct but ethically highly questionable
position since it has been established as international ethical principle
that the waste producer shall be responsible of the waste management
is also the technical possibility of introducing MOX type pellets into
fuel pins and insert those into the general spent fuel storage scheme.
is the technical, political, economic and environmental evaluation of
all those alternatives to a highly questionable strategy presented by
spent 15 years of my life working on plutonium issues. The decisions
to be taken are not of secondary importance. This is a very crucial
moment for the future of the plutonium economy:
French State electricity utility EDF has not signed up yet for a follow
up reprocessing contract after year 2001, in spite of severe pressure
of the plutonium company COGEMA.
UK government has not yet given the go-ahead for the start-up of the
completed Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP). The plant is highly controversial.
German government has not yet authorised to resume the spent fuel shipments
to La Hague and Sellafield since WISE-Paris revealed a major scandal
of shipment cask contamination in May 1998.
Japanese utilities are about to embark on a highly controversial, major
MOX utilisation program.
would be naïve to imagine that Sweden could take a "pro-plutonium"
decision on the grounds that it only covers a "limited" amount
of material and represents the "easy" solution. Without a
doubt, the plutonium industry will not hesitate to exploit any decision
in that direction.
the other hand, the Swedish governments decision to direct the
Swedish plutonium to the nuclear waste stream would be a strong signal
to abandon further plutonium separation and use, where ever.
looking forward to your response. But foremost Im hoping that
the Swedish democratic forces will not take the nuclear industry plans
as a new and fatal fait accompli. The issues at stake are worth the
you for your attention to this worthy problem.
With my very best regards,
Director of WISE-Paris