First quarter of 2001

Sensational Court Ruling

COGEMA Prohibited to Unload Australian Nuclear Fuel in France

WISE-Paris, 15 March 2001

[Posted 16/03/2001]

In an unprecedented move a French court has prohibited the nuclear company COGEMA from unloading and storing irradiated nuclear fuel from a cargo ship that has just arrived from Australia at Cherbourg. The environmental organization Greenpeace had asked for a court injunction in an emergency procedure to prevent the unloading of the Australian nuclear waste on the grounds that COGEMA does not have an appropriate authorization to reprocess the spent fuel from the Australian research reactor of Lucas Heights.

The Cherbourg Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) decided that "in order to assure the effectiveness of the present decision" to help in the enforcement of these prohibitions there will be a provisional fine of 100,000 French francs [about US$15,000] per spent fuel element (360 in total) and per week. In other words, if COGEMA decided to unload the Australian spent fuel, it would have to pay some 36 million French francs (US$ 5.4 million) per week ! The "prohibition is valid until the delivery of the authorization for importation and reprocessing specific to the cargo in question".

In the absence of an authorization for reprocessing, the Australian material should to be considered as nuclear waste.

The background: According to article 3 of the French nuclear waste law from 1991, "the storage in France of imported radioactive waste, even if its reprocessing has been carried out on the national territory, is prohibited beyond the period technically necessary for reprocessing". In other words, it is illegal to store imported nuclear waste in France besides/beyond the necessary cooling periods of high level radioactive waste after reprocessing.

The Cherbourg Court also required COGEMA to supply Greenpeace with a copy of the reprocessing contract and threatened the company with a 100,000 French franc fine per day of delay. COGEMA and its daughter company TRANSNUCLÉAIRE is also required to pay 10,000 francs to Greenpeace France and another 10,000 francs to its Cherbourg representative Yannick Rousselet.

On 14 March 2001, the same Cherbourg Court already turned down COGEMA's attempt to prohibit Greenpeace from protesting against the Australian nuclear delivery. On the contrary, it considering that Greenpeace had the right to access certain number of documents in the course of the procedure that were not yet supplied, consequently the court condemned COGEMA to pay the unprecedented fine of 100,000 French francs per document per day of delay to Greenpeace France.

The Cherbourg Court's decisions follow an initial request by the lawyers of the local group CRILAN and the regional councilor Didier Anger to issue an injunction against shipments of plutonium bearing waste materials from the former plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel fabrication plant at Hanau, Germany. WISE-Paris/Plutonium Investigation (see briefing 'Secret Shipments and Illegal Storage') revealed in the French daily Le Monde on 14 February 2001 ('La France a discrètement importé des rebuts nucléaires allemands') secret shipments of storage elements from Hanau to La Hague in the summer of 2000.

The decision on the Hanau materials, which are in similar to the Australian material —four shipments arrived in August/September 2000 and 10 further shipments have been licensed by German and French authorities until 30 June 2001— is expected for 20 March 2001.

Given the precedent of the Cherbourg Court decision is it difficult to imagine a complete turn-around of the situation.

Useful links:

Greenpeace France
Importation des déchets nucléaires australiens

Paris, le 15 mars 2001

Importation des déchets nucléaires australiens
Le Tribunal de Cherbourg donne raison à Greenpeace

Paris, le 15 mars 2001

Shipment of Spent Fuel
16 March 2001

Les autorisations nécessaires pour le retraitement du combustible irradié sur le site
de COGEMA - La Hague

Paris, le 16 mars 2001

ABC News
ANSTO plays down French refusal of spent nuclear fuel
16 March 2001

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