France - Plutonium Investigationn°19

Public Inquiries at La Hague — License Guaranteed

   The public inquiries opened at La Hague on 2 February and closed on 17 May 2000, dealt with five separate
requests, three of which were from COGEMA and two from ANDRA.

   For COGEMA (according to the terms of the request for modification of its authorizing decrees) requested:

-"increase of annual reprocessing capacity for each of the UP3-A and UP2-800 plants to 1,000 tonnes. The industrial optimization of the installations will lead to a distribution of annual production of a maximum of 1,700 tonnes to one or other of the installations while respecting the maximum capacity of 1,000 tonnes per installation";

-increase the storage capacity of pools C, D and E by around 30% (3,590 tonnes to 4,800 tonnes for C, 3,490 tonnes to 4,600 tonnes for D, and 4,910 tonnes to 6,200 tonnes for E), increasing the total storage capacity from 13,990 tonnes to 17,600 tonnes;

-"increase in burnup rate and initial enrichment of spent fuels authorized at present".

   Furthermore, the request stipulates that, regarding the adaptation of the types of fuels and material to be reprocessed in UP3-A and UP2-800, "each significantly different type will, at the appropriate moment, be the subject of a special safety file and of a request for authorization to be submitted to the relevant authorities and ministries, especially the ministers responsible for environment and for industry". This wording is aimed specifically at contracts for reprocessing of fuel from research reactors as of the Australian type.

   For ANDRA:

-To go to an active phase of monitoring of the Centre de Stockage de la Manche (CSM — final surface repository for short lived radioactive waste in northern France), planned for 50 to 100 years. This means setting up surveillance of packages and making regular measurements (even if only every 5 or 10 years) of releases of radionuclides (in other words leaks) and the condition of the covering structure (already showing signs of early fatigue).

-Renewal of authorization for emissions from the CSM, benefiting, in particular, from the opportunity to make official the practice of discharge of rain water (assumed not to have been in contact with the packages) into the Sainte Hélène river which receives the run-off water from La Hague. Infiltrating
water is already drained to the COGEMA effluent treatment station before being discharged to the
sea via the COGEMA-La Hague facility's sea discharge pipe.

   After these public inquiries, the Inquiry Commission submitted the report containing its conclusions to the Prefect of
the La Manche region, on 26 June 2000. The Prefect then communicated the report to the nuclear safety authority. Findings were favorable to all of the requests, sometimes accompanied by reservations and recommendations.

   For ANDRA, moving to the monitoring phase requires that, "the very active monitoring phase be extended to 10 years" and, "study of the possibility of carrying out spot checks under the structures carried out by the operator in order to make measurements of radioactivity as close as possible to structures that could be cause for concern" and that, "means for inspection, cleaning and repair of drains be examined by the operator". The Commission also recommended that authorizations be limited to 10 years, that they should then be the subject of study and public inquiry, and that they be accompanied by a certain number of safety studies (discharges, seismic conditions, etc),
and surveys.

   For COGEMA, the modifications of the La Hague facilities are authorized under the condition that they do not cause "notable or long-term increase in actual impacts and emissions (radioactive and chemical) to
the environment"
and that reprocessing of new types of fuels and materials be limited "to elements that do not lead to exceeding of a "technological threshold" likely to affect either the safety of the installation or increase impact on the environment and health". It is also recommended that authorizations on emissions be revised downwards periodically on the basis of actual emissions, that the major radionuclides be subject to individual limits and that the inventory of chemicals stored and used at the establishment be updated with regard to their toxicity and prevention of chemical risk.

   The public inquiries at La Hague were neither very democratic and nor very public. Obtaining the public inquiry dossiers was subject to draconian conditions:

-a charge of 5,370 Francs (about $US 750) in two checks, one made out to COGEMA for 3,222 Francs, the other to ANDRA for 2,148 Francs;

-a copy of the Official Journal indicating that the requesting party is an association registered with the Ministry of the Environment;

-and finally, a wait of two to three weeks which became more than a month even for the associations represented on the La Hague Commission spéciale et permanente d’information (CSPI - special permanent information commission) which had refused to pay.

   No debate took place on three studies made for Greenpeace on this subject — the only technical elements added to the file by experts independent of industry or of the State, and handed to the French government and to the OSPAR Commission — did not, apparently, provoke any debate among the inquiry commissioners. Yet these studies address the question of the impacts of radioactive releases on health and on the environment, the risks of serious accident
and alternatives to reprocessing in management of spent fuels. They concluded, in turn:

-"that each of the changes [requested by COGEMA] could significantly increase La Hague's hazard potential" whereas to date, "COGEMA has not presented any analysis of the hazard implications of the proposed changes";(1)

-that the "US system for dry storag systems for PWR fuel is estimated to be 8 to 20 times less expensive per tonne that reprocessing", i.e.; US$35,000 to US$68,000 per ton for dry storage against US$540,000 to US$720,000 per ton for reprocessed fuel;(2)

-and finally, that "estimates of collective doses show that there have been significant increases throughout the 1990s", e.g. for 14C going from 868 man sieverts (man Sv) in 1991 (for total emissions of 6.2 TBq) to 4,108 man Sv (for 28.93 TBq) in 1999. Emission authorizations for Sellafield (UK) correspond to 4,100 man Sv.(3)

(1) Gordon Thompson, " Hazard potential of the La Hague site : an initial review ", IRSS, May 2000
(2) Dr. Ian Fairlie, " Dry storage of spent nuclear fuel : the safer alternative to reprocessing ", May 2000
(3) D. J. Summer, " Radioactive discharges from La Hague ", 23 May 2000

Previous page   To be continued (The "reprocessing-recycling" option is a clearly uneconomic choice)
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