Third quarter of 2000

COGEMA "Blackmails" French Safety Authorities Over Cadarache Issue

Commercial interests versus safety

WISE-Paris, 19 July 2000

[Posted 19/07/2000]

Download the latest version of WISE-Paris briefing on Cadarache as PDF file (70 Ko)
(English version) as of 21 August 2000
Download the briefing annexes (letters, map, figures) as PDF file (848 Ko)
(French version)

The 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.

The 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.

The 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 available as:

- 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 ")


" Die 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. ")

The 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.

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