First quarter of 2001
Shipments and Illegal Storage
The strange story of imported waste at la Hague
WISE-Paris, 8 March 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
The WISE-Paris briefing "Secret Shipments and Illegal Storage"
attempts to highlight the background of this new affair.
the WISE-Paris briefing (10 p, 164 kb) (English version)
the WISE-Paris briefing Annexes (13 p, 370 kb) (French version
Useful links related to the WISE-Paris briefing
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 http://www.wise-paris.org/introournewsletter.html)
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
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
Tel : + 33 1 43 19 39 41
E-mail : email@example.com
Web : www.asn.gouv.fr
COGEMA - Press
Yves Gautier / Céline Matge
Tel : + 33 1 39 26 31 56
Web : www.cogema.fr
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 : firstname.lastname@example.org
Useful link related to the WISE-Paris
briefing (verified as of 16.06.2003)
Grüne verschwiegen Atomtransporte
Junge Welt, 16.02.2001