Netherlands - Plutonium Investigation n°11

Management of Nuclear Waste

As in all countries using nuclear power, no definitive solution has yet been chosen for nuclear wastes. COVRA, the waste management authority, has just received the operating license for an intermediate level radioactive waste (ILW) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW) interim storage facility called HABOG, located at Borssele. This facility is designed to store the waste for some hundred years. The HLW part of the facility is designed to enable the storage of spent fuel from both commercial Dodewaard and Borssele reactors, which has not been reprocessed, as well as spent fuel from research reactors - the much smaller Petten research reactor and the Delft pool reactor. SGN, the engineering subsidiary of COGEMA, is a contractor on HABOG. SGN signed a 90 million Dutch guilders contract for the design and the construction of the facility. A license was issued on 29 June 1998 by the Government under the responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. However, Greenpeace and five other groups objected to the licensing of the facility. An administrative court dismissed the case and confirmed the license on 8 January 1999. COVRA is now authorised to build the HLW interim storage facility as well as to operate the ILW facility.

COVRA has been authorised to use the HABOG ILW interim storage facility to temporarily store spent fuel from the research reactor at Petten which is owned by the European Commission but operated by ECN - the Netherlands Energy Research Foundation - and is a supplier of medical radio-pharmaceuticals. The reactor has up to now only used highly-enriched uranium (HEU) which was supplied by the USA. The US Administration recently lobbyied in favor of a conversion of the reactor from HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU), for non-nuclear proliferation purposes, as part of a diplomatic push for conversion of other European research reactors. ECN's management was divided into on the one hand favoring converting to LEU, with which the US would be co-operative - and would accept taking back the spent HEU fuel already produced - and on the other hand not converting to LEU, for which the US would not accept back the spent HEU fuel, which would therefore require a shut-down of the reactor, because of the lack of storage for the HEU spent fuel. The possibility of storing the spent fuel in shielded 'Castor' casks at the COVRA's ILW facility helped ECN out of this delicate situation. The spent fuel from the Petten research reactor was planned to be transferred for storage at HABOG during February 1999.

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