France - Plutonium Investigationn°19


Conflict over the return of vitrified waste to Belgium

   The first return of vitrified waste to Belgium was carried out on April 4, 2000. However, the question of quality control of the waste packages is causing a stir between the nuclear establishment and the Belgian government. It is the State Secretary of Energy, Olivier Deleuze, who asked to review the acceptance procedures for wastes by the Belgian State and therefore the rules applied to quality control. The Belgian government followed its minister and declared on 3 March 2000, even before the arrival of the first package, that "this reception does not commit the government to the reception of the following packages." The decision of the Council of Ministers defines the ensuing reception criteria for wastes:

   "The government will organize the control of these wastes in two ways:

-Verification of the conformity of the package to be received with the acceptance criteria established by ONDRAF [the national radioactive waste management agency](non-destructive analysis);
-A physical check to determine the life expectancy of the various components used (quality of the vitrification, cooling period, neutron dose during the evacuation phase)–(destructive analysis on a sample).

   Only at the outcome of these inspections will the reception of the subsequent packages be anticipated."

   Applying the governmental decision, Olivier Deleuze, on 6 July 2000, wrote to ONDRAF, the national organism for the management of radioactive wastes, asking it not to approve a second shipment for the time being. At first, this led ONDRAF to correctly inform Synatom of this by a letter of September 7, 2000 (Synatom has been given responsibility by the Belgian electric companies for the execution of reprocessing contracts with COGEMA). Meanwhile, research bodies were asked to work on the development of a new quality control procedure. But on 12 October 2000, in a spectacular turn of events, the State Secretary of Energy announces in a press release
(The Belgian Secretary of State for Energy accuses the nuclear lobby of 'sabotage on the Government's decision') that "it now seems that ONDRAF wishes in spite of everything to authorize this shipment, thus opposing the controls decided by the government and thus reinforcing Belgian society’s distrust of the nuclear lobby and its lack of openness." And in stunning terms, Olivier Deleuze "notes that the development of the radioactive waste control program is systematically sabotaged by the nuclear lobby that perceives it as unacceptable interference in its private hunting grounds." The officials of other governments responsible for surveillance of repatriated waste from COGEMA are attentively following the conflict in Belgium...

Superphenix’s setbacks continue...

   Despite the disastrous trajectory of Superphenix, the fast reactors option continues to fascinate certain nostalgic characters who do not hesitate to talk about "the path of fast neutrons and its promises", or of "Superphenix: a symbol". Let us recall that Superphenix, according to the "Cour des Comptes" [Government Accounting Office] will have cost 60 billion francs when EDF (which replaced the European consortium NERSA, dissolved Oct. 6, 2000, in its long term obligations) finishes paying interest at the end of 2000. The plant continues to cost 800 million francs per year, including the expense of heating sodium in order to keep it in a liquid form. It will also be necessary to spend at least 17 billion francs to pump some 5,500 tons of highly flammable sodium, to unload the 650 core assemblies (which will no doubt take longer than the 18 months initially forecasted), and finally to tear down the installation. Begun on Dec.1, 1999, the unloading in mid-October 2000 concerned the 67th assembly. Unloading had been suspended for two months, pending a permit to continue, required because the amounts of residual sodium on the assemblies were greater than foreseen.

   In these conditions, how can one justify the investment of 600 million francs for "re-conditioning" of the predecessor Phenix whereas, since May 29, 1998, the plant has been subject to three requests introduced by the Forum Plutonium for cancellation of its restart permit? These requests are based principally on insufficient safety criteria; on Nov. 13, 1998, Phenix was prematurely stopped following a sodium leak that passed the second confinement barrier...The affair awaits judgment by the Administrative Court of Appeal in Paris to which it was referred more than two years ago.

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UP1 begins its costly deconstruction

   With a total estimate by the Cour des Comptes (Accounting Court) of 37 to 40 billion francs (20 billion for the reconditioning of wastes and 17 to 20 billion for the actual dismantling), the Marcoule plant will, over the next 30 years, and after 40 years of operation, be the object of the first dismantling in France of a reprocessing plant. Let us recall that the plant, put on line in 1958, has been used in succession (and in parallel) for military applications and then for the reprocessing of civilian UNGG fuels (Natural Uranium Graphite Gas), and that its final shut-down was announced at the beginning of 1998, after the reprocessing of over 18,200 tons of nuclear fuel from the CEA (for the Ministry of defense), from EDF, and from other customers of COGEMA. The Codem GIE (Groupement d’Interet Economique), created in July 1996 under the triangular aegis of the CEA (45%), of EDF (45%) and of COGEMA (10%) is responsible for controlling and financing the three phases: Mise à l’Arret Définitif (MAD) [Permanent Shut-down], Reprise et Conditionnement des Déchets (RCD) [Re-conditioning of Wastes], and Démantèlement des installations jusqu’au niveau 2 (DEM) [Dismantling to Level 2]. Provisions made by EDF and COGEMA for the dismantling operations of UP1 went up from 4.6 billion francs in 1992 to 16.7 billion francs in 1997.

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