Second quarter of 2003

En route for the 8th shipment of vitrified waste to Japan… but most of the foreign waste remains in France

With the 8th return of Japanese vitrified waste, COGEMA puts an end to the 2002 return plan delays. After this shipment, about one third of the total quantity of vitrified waste to be returned to Japan will effectively be back. This is only a small part of the total quantity of various kinds of foreign waste that is still being stored at La Hague.

WISE-Paris, 5 June 2003

[Posted 05/06/2003]

On 2 June 2003, COGEMA announced the 8th return of some of the Japanese vitrified waste produced by its reprocessing installations at La Hague. (1) The three TN28VT and three TN20VT containers that were loaded on the Pacific Swan, which departed on 4 June 2003, (2) should arrive in Japan in July. This transport of 144 canisters of vitrified waste was previously planned to be shipped in 2002, but suffered delays because of the strong opposition encountered along the waste-shipment routes, including protests of the 78 African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries plus South American states. (3)

The first shipment took place in 1995, followed by 6 shipments between 1997 and 2001. Although COGEMA’s reprocessing contracts with Japanese electric utilities were completed in 1999, the new transport will only bring the quantity of vitrified waste returned to Japan just over one third of the total to be returned. Taking into account COGEMA’s schedule of one shipment (of the same volume as the 8th one), on average in the forthcoming years, it would take another 7 shipments, or 7 years, to transport back all Japanese vitrified waste produced at La Hague.

The return of Japanese vitrified waste will in total extend – if no further delayed – cover a period of 15 years. The time between the first arrival of Japanese spent fuel for reprocessing at La Hague and the shipment of the last canister of vitrified waste could mount up to 3 decades. It will also take many years to return vitrified waste to other foreign clients of the French reprocessing plants, as the share already returned to those countries – Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands – is even smaller, as shown in the table below.

Like the return of Japanese waste, the return of vitrified waste to those countries is very slow. Moreover, the Belgian authorities introduced in March 2000 – just before the first return – a control-quality program of the vitrified waste sent by COGEMA that had no impact on the schedule of the return of Belgian vitrified waste so far. (4) Up to now, other countries, including Japan that has shown strong concern for quality issues in the 1999 scandal of control-quality data falsification in MOX fabrication by BNFL, (5) have not developed the same kind of program as Belgium.

The return of vitrified waste, as summarized in the following table, does only take into account reprocessing contracts including a return clause. Older contracts, like those signed with Spain, did not include the return of waste to the owner of the reprocessed fuel.

* WISE-Paris estimates on the basis of the COGEMA figure of one vitrified canister produced per 1.4 tHM of spent fuel reprocessed.

Vitrified residues of the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, concentrate the minor actinides and fission products left after separation of the nuclear materials, plutonium and uranium. But these high-level wastes (HLW) are not the only wastes arising from reprocessing, and only a small part of them in terms of volume. None of these intermediate or low-level wastes (ILW and LLW) have been returned or are planned to be returned. As a “fait accompli”, some of the Japanese LLW have already been sent together with the French and other foreign LLW to the national storage sites, excluding any possibility of return.

Most volumes of waste arising from the reprocessing of foreign spent fuel in La Hague remain there, a situation hardly in accordance with the French law. The third article of the law of 30 December 1991 on the management of radioactive waste stipulates that “storage in France of imported radioactive waste, even if their reprocessing has been operated on the national territory, is forbidden beyond the technical delays imposed by reprocessing.(6)


  1. COGEMA-La Hague, “8th return of vitrified residues to Japan”, 2 June 2003

    and “8th return of vitrified residues to Japan (departure)”, 5 June 2003
  2. Japan Today, “Reprocessed nuclear waste to arrive in Japan in July”, 2 June 2003
  3. See WISE-Paris Our News, “Nuclear waste ship banned from Argentinean waters”, 30 January 2001
    and Others’ News, “78 Nations Condemn Nuclear Shipments”, ENS Correspondents, 22 July 2002
  4. See WISE-Paris Our News, “Fifth Return Shipment of Belgian High Level Waste from La Hague – Quality-Control Issue Still Pending”, 26 September 2002
    and “Belgian Government Questions the Quality-Control of La Hague Reprocessing Waste”, 4 March 2000
  5. See WISE-Paris Our News, “MITI press statement on meetings with British authorities : MITI requests now the return of the incriminated MOX to the UK”, 10 February 2000
  6. Translation from French by WISE-Paris. Loi n° 91-1381 du 30 décembre 1991 relative aux recherches sur la gestion des déchets radioactifs

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