First quarter of 2001

Secret Shipments and Illegal Storage

The strange story of imported waste at la Hague

WISE-Paris, 8 March 2001

[Posted 08/03/2001]

The recent revelation by WISE-Paris and French daily Le Monde of "secret" imports of German nuclear waste materials into France during the summer 2000 has had the effect of a bomb in Germany. First, the information hit the front pages of the press and the story made the lead in the German TV news and now the story raises a lot of public attention in France. COGEMA is summoned to appear in the court of Cherbourg on 20 March 2001 and the MP Christian Bataille, "father" of the nuclear waste law, considers that the spirit of the law "is violated" by these practices.

Beyond the case of the Hanau batches of MOX fabrication residues, the question of illegal storage practices at La Hague is also relevant to German spent MOX fuel and spent research reactor fuel from Australia and Belgium.

The WISE-Paris briefing "Secret Shipments and Illegal Storage" attempts to highlight the background of this new affair.

Download the WISE-Paris briefing (10 p, 164 kb) (English version)
Download the WISE-Paris briefing Annexes (13 p, 370 kb) (French version only)



Useful links related to the WISE-Paris briefing

1. Summary

COGEMA threatened with a penalty of 10 million Euros for each infraction

On 15 February 2001, WISE-Paris and the French daily newspaper "Le Monde" revealed that "during the summer of 2000, France accepted four shipments of German nuclear waste at La Hague, in conditions of utmost discretion." This information emerged at a time when it was thought that nuclear transports between Germany and La Hague had been suspended — since the revelation in 1998, also by WISE-Paris, of the "Contaminated Transport Affair" (see — and "led to an outcry" in Germany. The Minister for Environment faced questions in parliament, front page articles appeared in the press and the story made the lead in the TV news.

On 6 March 2001, COGEMA was summoned to appear before the court at Cherbourg on 20 March 2001. A local association is attempting to prevent COGEMA from "organising any further importation" of this type of nuclear material from Germany, under the threat of a penalty of 10 million Euros for each infraction discovered. Storage of foreign nuclear waste in France is forbidden by Article 3 of the 1991 Law on management of radioactive wastes.

Between 10 August and 19 September 2000, COGEMA imported residues on four occasions from the MOX fuel (mixed uranium and plutonium oxides) manufacturing plant at Hanau in Germany. The plant has not been producing commercially since 1991 and has only received an authorisation to condition MOX manufacturing residues and remaining plutonium into "storage elements" (the term used by the manufacturer Siemens for the Hanau batches is "storage elements", Lagerelemente or Lagerstäbe). These elements, identical in form to MOX fuel assemblies but without the qualities required for use in a reactor, could be stored permanently as waste in the same way as un-reprocessed irradiated fuels. These storage elements can, however, also be processed to separate the plutonium and uranium, in order to manufacture MOX fuel elements. This was planned for in a reprocessing contract between the German company DWK, acting for German nuclear operators, and COGEMA.

At present, COGEMA only has an "authorisation to receive, unload and store" the Hanau batches, issued by France's nuclear installations safety authority (DSIN) and dated 27 April 1997. In the absence of even a request for authorisation for reprocessing in the La Hague installation — and consequently of any authorisation to reprocess — it appears that such materials should be considered as wastes, and therefore as being stored in France illegally.

The French Secretary of State for Industry has declared that the Hanau batches "can be recycled perfectly legally in the UP2-400 plant at La Hague: the legal status of the plant permits this."

In a response to a written inquiry about these apparently contradictory declarations, the Director of the DSIN, in a letter to WISE-Paris, "confirmed that:

- "COGEMA does not at present have an authorisation to process the batches of assemblies from Hanau in an installation at the La Hague site" and that:

- "COGEMA has not, to date, requested authorisation to process the assembly batches from Hanau " at La Hague.

The DSIN therefore indicates unambiguously that there has been no request for authorisation and, consequently, even less granting of an authorisation for processing of waste at La Hague. This situation seemed sufficiently serious to the lawyer acting on behalf of the CRILAN association, and the Regional Councillor Didier Anger, to bring an action against COGEMA in the court at Cherbourg, to prevent any further organisation of importation of materials from Hanau. The court was also asked to order COGEMA, among other things, to pay a bond of 10 million Euros for each infraction discovered.

In its letter to WISE-Paris, the DSIN affirms that "processing of the Hanau shipment in the UP2-400 installation would require a specific authorisation from the DSIN which nothing in regulations prevents from being issued." Above and beyond the fact that no one has made any request, it is not certain that the DSIN could, at present, issue such a specific authorisation.

In fact, COGEMA, at La Hague, also stores manufacturing residues from MOX fuel fabrication at its Melox (Marcoule, France) and ATPu (Cadarache, France) plants. These wastes are stored in the same way as those from Germany, i.e. in the form of storage elements. In its 1997 Annual Report, the DSIN stipulates that "the DSIN reminded COGEMA that processing in the La Hague plants of residues from Melox and ATPu supposes a modification of the Decrees granting authorisation to La Hague."

It is hard to see how processing of storage elements from Hanau could not be subject to the same regulatory conditions as those applying to residues from French plants. And furthermore, the UP2-400 plant, commissioned in 1966 and soon to be closed down permanently, has not been in operation for more than two years. Decree No. 63-1228 of 11 September 1963 on basic nuclear installations states, in its Article 4, that "if the installation is not brought into service within the period fixed or is not operated for a period of more than two consecutive years, a new authorisation, issued in the same form, is required." The "same form" being that of a licensing procedure including a public enquiry. In other words, it would appear that not only does COGEMA not have an authorisation to reprocess MOX manufacture residues, but the DSIN could not issue such an authorisation for the obsolete UP2-400 in the absence of a new procedure including a public enquiry - an industrial nonsense given the age of the installation.

In fact, COGEMA never envisaged reprocessing of these materials in its UP2-400 plant, but has, for a long time, been planning to use new plants, and its UP2-800 installation in particular. Publication of the Decree authorising the desired modifications at the La Hague site are still making their way through the relevant ministries.

But even if a new Decree were to see the light of day, processing of materials such as those from Hanau would remain subject to a special authorisation. The request for modification of the Decree authorising creation of the UP2-800 and UP3 plants, signed by COGEMA's CEO, Ms Anne Lauvergeon, on 20 September 1999, stipulates that "regarding adaptation of the types of fuels and materials to be reprocessed in UP3-A and UP2-800, each significantly different new type will, at the appropriate time, be the subject of a specific safety dossier and request for authorisation, to be submitted to the relevant administrative departments and ministries, especially the ministries responsible for the Environment and for Industry."

Storage of these Hanau storage elements is not the only problem. Germany is storing around 50 tonnes of irradiated MOX fuel at La Hague, and Belgium and Australia send research reactor fuels for reprocessing. In the absence of authorisations and precise planning of reprocessing, these materials constitute waste which — according to the argument developed for the Hanau shipment by Mr Thibault de Montbrial, CRILAN's lawyer — is stored illegally on French soil.


DSIN - Press
Alain Delmestre
Tel : + 33 1 43 19 39 41
E-mail :
Web :

COGEMA - Press
Yves Gautier / Céline Matge
Tel : + 33 1 39 26 31 56
Web :

Didier Anger
Basse-Normandie Regional Councillor
Tel : + 33 2 33 52 45 59
Fax : + 33 2 33 52 53 26

Thibault de Montbrial
Didier Anger and CRILAN's lawyer
Tel : + 33 1 43 12 51 00
Fax : + 33 1 43 12 51 01
E-mail :

Useful link related to the WISE-Paris briefing (verified as of 16.06.2003)

German Press:

Grüne verschwiegen Atomtransporte
Junge Welt, 16.02.2001

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