First quarter of 2000

Belgian Government Questions the Quality-Control of La Hague Reprocessing Waste

WISE-Paris, 4 March 2000

[Posted 04/03/2000]

The Belgian Secretary of State for Energy Olivier Deleuze yesterday evening issued a press release that implicitly questions the quality control guarantees of the nuclear waste packages produced at the La Hague reprocessing facilities.

The 3 March 2000, the Council of Ministers asked the Secretary of State to inform the Belgian company SYNATOM that despite "the government agreeing to the reception of the first of 15 containers with vitrified radioactive waste currently in La Hague, France", it stressed that "this reception does not engage the government for the reception of the following containers". (SYNATOM is responsible for the execution of the reprocessing contracts with the French company COGEMA on behalf of the Belgian utilities.)

Furthermore, according to the press release, the statement specifies that:

"The government will organize the control of these wastes under two conditions:

- the verification of the conformity of the container to be received with the acceptance criteria established by ONDRAF
[the Belgian waste management agency, note PI] (non-destructive analysis);
- physical examination to produce information on the lifetime of the various components used (vitrification quality,
cooling period, neutron doses emitted during the evacuation phases) - (destructive analysis on sample).

It will only be at the outcome of these controls that reception of the rest of the containers will be envisaged."

The Belgian Government is assuming on the return, over a seven-year period, of 15 containers each containing 28 vitrified waste canisters. However, questions remain over return of the other waste categories - intermediate level wastes like bitumenized waste and cemented intermediate and low level wastes.

The move of the Belgian Government raises questions over the quality control of waste products that have very long half-lives. As far as is known, only a single sample of vitrified waste has been analyzed, by destructive means, out of a total of several thousand canisters produced. In the light of the current quality control scandal at BNFL, this practice raises serious questions, especially considering the potential long term consequences of fabrication of the canister, the poor quality of glass products, higher than specified radioactive inventories and many other potentially hazardous deviations from the agreed technical specifications.

Amongst COGEMA's La Hague clients that will receive the waste products from the existing reprocessing contracts in the future are German, Japanese, Dutch and Swiss utilities and, more recently Australian companies.
Who will follow the Belgian example next?

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