Cadarache Special - Plutonium Investigationn°20

April - May 2001                                    Editorial

Safety authority: paper tiger or accessory to the fact?

The Durance fault is a zone of exceptional geological instability. As early as March 1994, the IPSN (Institut de Protection et de Sûreté Nucléaire - Institute for Nuclear Protection and Safety) concluded that the seismic activity, 60 km northeast of Marseilles, "has shown a significant increase since the end of December 1993". This is no surprise, since an important centennial earthquake is expected - "massive damage; the most vulnerable housing destroyed; almost all dwellings suffering considerable damage" - after the ones that took place in 1812 and in 1913...

Cadarache, the largest French nuclear centre outside the Parisian region - 450 buildings, 5000 employees - is situated only a few kilometres away from the main fault. In 1995, following the IPSN analysis, the safety authority asked COGEMA to prepare to shut down the plutonium fuel (MOX) production plant "shortly after 2000". It claimed the installation did not comply with the applicable anti-earthquake regulations and doubtless constituted the greatest potential risk for the site in the event of an earthquake.

Since then the plant has not ceased to increase its production and now, six years later, it is still operating. The safety authority "threatens" to shut down the plant "by court order" at the end of 2002. COGEMA "proposes" to shut down the plant on one condition: that it be authorised to increase the capacity of its other MOX plant, MELOX, at Marcoule. "Blackmail", retorts the safety authority; "not with us" adds the ministry for the Environment. As a result: COGEMA makes an official application for authorisation to increase its production at Marcoule.

Is it understandable that the French technocratic élite should have decided to build a nuclear site of this scale in such a place? Is it believable that the legal existence of the second largest producer of commercial MOX in the world should be based on a simple declaration as a research laboratory in 1964? Is it acceptable that industry should impose its purely commercial logic and fly in the face of all safety considerations?

In other words, what does the controlling State weigh compared with the shareholder State?

Back to contents                To be continued (Dossier : Cadarache Special)
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Figures of the month: Use and management of MOX fuel in Germany (as of 31 December 1999)
Words of the month
Worth reading: The Disposition of Civil Plutonium in the UK,
                             by Fred Barker and Mike Sadnicki, April 2001, 241 p.
Who's who? in the Cadarache Affair