Third quarter of 2000
"Blackmails" French Safety Authorities Over Cadarache Issue
Commercial interests versus safety
WISE-Paris, 19 July 2000
the latest version of WISE-Paris briefing on Cadarache as PDF file (70
version) as of 21 August 2000
the briefing annexes (letters, map, figures) as PDF file (848 Ko)
MOX fuel fabrication facility (ATPu) at Cadarache in the South of France
is a fundamental piece of the German plutonium management scheme as
well as in the operator's commercial strategy. However, its future seems
in jeopardy because the plant, operated by COGEMA, is situated in a
area of high seismic risk and hasn't been properly designed to withstand
a major earthquake. The French nuclear safety authorities (DSIN) has
requested the operator, as early as 1995, to present them with a firm
shut down strategy within a deadline of " just after 2000 ".
DSIN is still waiting.
facility was created in 1961 by the CEA (Commissariat à l'Énergie
Atomique) and was " declared " as a laboratory for
the study of plutonium bearing fuels. Operated by the CEA, it first
has carried out experimental work on and fabrication of fast breeder
reactor fuels. Plutonium bearing MOX fuels for light water reactors
have been produced on a larger scale since 1991. The licensing situation
is very unclear, to say the least. In juridical terms the CEA remains
the operator. No licensing procedure has been carried out and not a
single decree has modified its original status of a laboratory. This
is although the plant today has a full commercial throughput of about
40 tonnes of MOX fuel per year.
nuclear safety institute (IPSN), technical backup of the nuclear safety
authorities, have established that the immediate surroundings of Cadarache
has experienced very significant earthquakes with a destructive intensity
of VIII on the MSK scale with a frequency of about once per century.
The last earthquake of that order of magnitude happened in 1913 and
a 1994 IPSN study reveals that since 1993 " the seismic
activity shows a significant recrudescence since the end of December
1993 ". Accordingly, DSIN requested COGEMA-CEA in 1995
to present " a scheme for the future of ATPu comprising
a final and non-renegotiable shut down date just after 2000 ".
Confronted with the absence of an answer by COGEMA-CEA, a second request
by DSIN in 1997 stated that " this situation is unacceptable ".
COGEMA-CEA answered by suggesting the construction of a " superstructure ",
like a giant containment covering the existing installations. This was
refused by DSIN a few months later.
Cadarache is of vital commercial importance to COGEMA.
The plant has been qualified to Siemens specifications and produces
exclusively for German clients. There is no other MOX fabrication capacity
The extension of the MELOX plant, which produces essentially for its
French customer EDF
and a limited amount for Japanese clients,
is politically blocked because the Green-PS agreement
stipulates that there would be no extension
to existing capacities.
The Belgian Dessel plant is booked out until around 2006.
Accordingly COGEMA has made the point in a letter
to DSIN that it could shut down the Cadarache plant only if it gets
a license to increase fabrication capacity at the MELOX plant. The argument
has been received by DSIN as a " blackmail " attempt. Commercial
interest versus safety concerns. DSIN sticks to its shut down request.
The other main aspect is that the recent nuclear phase out agreement
between the German government and the electricity utilities explicitly
only allow for further reprocessing in the UK and France if the utilities
can provide guaranties for the use of separated plutonium. Furthermore,
the utilities are explicitly asked to negotiate the cancellation of
their reprocessing contracts*. Currently Cadarache
covers about two thirds of the post-2000 MOX fabrication capacity for
Germany. That very clearly puts further reprocessing at Sellafield and
La Hague into doubt.
The wording in the German agreement is as follows:
" Die Wiederaufarbeitung setzt den Nachweis
der schadlosen Verwertung für die zurückzunehmenden Wiederaufarbeitungsprodukte
voraus. " (our translation: " Prior condition for reprocessing
is the proof of the harmless utilization of reprocessing products that
are to be taken back ")
EVU werden gegenüber ihren internationalen Partnern alle zumutbaren
vertraglichen Möglichkeiten nutzen, um zu einer frühestmöglichen
Beendigung der Wiederaufarbeitung zu kommen. " (our
translation: " The utilities will use every acceptable (zumutbar)
contractual possibilities in order to achieve the termination of reprocessing
at the earliest possible moment. ")
term use/utilization definitely means MOX and nothing else. This does
not mean that it is impossible under this agreement to transform reprocessing
contracts into storage contracts. However, this is difficult in France,
since the spent fuel would become waste and foreign waste storage in
France is prohibited beyond the time technically necessary for reprocessing.