First quarter of 2001

WISE-Paris/Plutonium Investigation uncovers " secret " shipments of German plutonium waste to La Hague

WISE-Paris, 15 February 2001

[Posted 15/02/2001]

Germany sent four shipments of plutonium waste to COGEMA’s reprocessing plant in La Hague in August and September 2000. The public was not informed of these shipments, even though the French government had insisted on several occasions that Germany should first start taking back its reprocessing waste already stored at La Hague before sending any further shipments to the plant. The German federal authorities have given their approval for 11 further shipments between now and mid-2001.

The shipments are the result of a contract signed between COGEMA and a consortium of German power companies, DWK, (1) providing for the transport to and processing at La Hague of scrap from a closed MOX (mixed plutonium / uranium oxide) fuel production plant in Hanau (Hesse, Germany).

But the contract between COGEMA and DWK (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Wiederaufarbeitung von Kernbrennstoffen) dates from October 1997 - long after the agreement signed in March 1997 between the French Greens and Socialist Party (PS) ruling out any new reprocessing contracts.

And furthermore, COGEMA is not authorised to reprocess the material imported from Germany. The DSIN (Direction de la sûrété des installations nucléaires or Directorate for nuclear plant safety) has only authorised its reception, unloading and storage. And even this authorisation would appear to be contrary to French law, which bans the import into France of foreign nuclear waste except for the purpose of reprocessing and for a time lag necessary to carry out the process (including a cooling period 3-5 years for high level radioactive waste).

Siemens stopped production of MOX fuel in at its fabrication plant at Hanau - the former ALKEM plant - in April 1994. On 28 January 1998, Siemens was authorised to " empty " the plant, that is, to produce " storage " pins or elements from the leftovers of plutonium and uranium, and other MOX production scrap. This involved following the same procedures as for MOX production but without the need to respect the quality standards which apply to the production of fuel for use in reactors.

The BfS (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz or Agency for radiation protection, which answers to the German environment ministry) has authorised 15 shipments of a total of 28 storage elements before mid-2001. The regional authorities in the various German Länder concerned are subsequently responsible for authorising each individual shipment. According to the environment ministry in Hesse, four shipments, each containing two cargos of storage elements took place in August and September last year. In total 3,927 kgs of uranium and 154 kgs of plutonium were shipped to La Hague.

The elements were transported by road in special security trucks. Separated and non-irradiated plutonium is always transported by road (or sea). Plutonium suitable for the production of nuclear weapons can be extracted from storage material and it is not possible to provide adequate physical protection and specialised surveillance for rail shipments of such material.

On 27 April 1999, the DSIN, in a letter obtained by Plutonium Investigation (entirely reproduced in PDF, 104 kb, 5 pages), gave COGEMA " authorisation to receive, unload and store a batch of non-irradiated MOX fuel from the Hanau plant (Germany) ". So far COGEMA has not been authorised to reprocess this material. And the head of COGEMA’s reprocessing division has told Le Monde " there is no planning for the reprocessing of the fuel. That will come later and at when it does, we’ll seek authorisation ". (See article in " Le Monde " of 14 February 2001, in French, entitled " France secretly imported German nuclear scrap ")

DSIN appears to be misusing the term " fuel " since the material in question is neither irradiated fuel (it does not come from a nuclear reactor) nor destined for use in a reactor because it does not meet the required technical specifications or quality assurances.

The material is nuclear waste which COGEMA is storing for its German clients. The storage of nuclear waste is clearly banned by article 3 of the French law on radioactive waste of 30 December 1991, which stipulates that:" The storage in France of imported radioactive waste, even if it has been reprocessed on French territory, is forbidden beyond the time period technically required for reprocessing. " In the absence of plans and authorization for reprocessing the material, it is difficult to see how its presence on French soil can be justified.

Two years ago Plutonium Investigation published a dossier entitled "Germany - Problem Export Expert". That assessment has now been confirmed. And French politicians appear (yet) decidedly less troubled by Germany’s attitude than they would have given the public to believe in recent months.

In a sector that regularly insists on its desire for " transparency ", these latest shipments have remained strangely secret.


  1. DWK is owned by the following power companies:
    RWE Energie AG (25.5%)
    Norddeutsche Gesellschaft zur Beratung und Durchführung von Entsorgungsaufgaben bei
    Kernkraftwerken mbH (Nord GmbH) (24.5%) (88% owned by PreussenElektra)
    Bayernwerk AG (14.5%)
    Hamburgische Electricitätswerke AG (HEW) (7.5%)
    Energie Baden-Württenberg AG (12.1%) (12.98 via EnBW Kraftwerke GmbH)
    Vereinigte Eelektrizitätswerke Wesfalen AG (5.5%)
    Isar-Amperwerke AG (3.5%)
    Neckarwerke Elektrizitätsversorgungs-AG (3.5%)
    Technische Werke der Stadt Stuttgart AG (3.5%)

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