Cadarache Special - Plutonium Investigation n°20

Cadarache Special
The MOX plant condemned:
sending tremors through the plutonium industry?

It could be a first in the world of nuclear power: if COGEMA does not submit a closure plan for the MOX fuel production plant at Cadarache, France, the director of safety of nuclear installations (DSIN - Direction de la sûreté des installations nucléaires) would be obliged to "close the plant by order at the end of 2002." These were the terms of a declaration, made on 30 January 2001, by Mr André Claude Lacoste, head of the DSIN, in response to a question by Plutonium Investigation.

On 18 April 2001, the Provence-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur region's regional directorate for industry, research and the environment (DRIRE - Direction Régionale de l'Industrie, de la Recherche et de l'Environnement) confirmed that the DSIN "would oversee […] the closure of activities of the plutonium technology facility (ATPu - Atelier de Technologie du Plutonium) for which the capacity to withstand seismic disturbances has not been demonstrated."

This is only one in a series of serious mishaps for the European plutonium industry. On 11 June 2001, the Federal German Government and the country's major electricity companies signed an agreement of capital importance, laying the way for the phase out of nuclear power and for ending transport of irradiated fuels to reprocessing plants by 1 July 2005 1. With the La Hague plant approaching the end of its contracts with its overseas clients, and Sellafield (UK) still not able to operate at full capacity, the scandal of falsified quality-control documents delivered a heavy blow to BNFL in September 1999. In July 2000, the Charpin-Dessus-Pellat report was published, passing a severe verdict on reprocessing in France. In August 2000, Plutonium Investigation published the story of the geological faults at Cadarache 2, completed its investigation into the quality control of fuel cladding at CEZUS 3 in December 2000 and, in mid-February 2001, revealed the "secret" shipments between Hanau in Germany and La Hague 4. On 26 February 2001, the Governor of the Japanese Prefecture of Fukushima forbade the first loading of MOX into a Japanese reactor in Units I-3 of the Fukushima power station.

The spectacular developments in Japan may well upset the long-laid plans of the plutonium industry. Thirty-two fuel assemblies were manufactured for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) electricity company, in 1999, at the Dessel plant in Belgium, and were recently sent — with 28 assemblies made in the French MELOX plant at Marcoule — by sea to Japan. The Governor of Niigata Prefecture then announced that he would not authorize use of MOX in the third unit at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, also operated by TEPCO, before loading of the MOX into the reactor at Fukushima. On 27 May 2001, the citizens of Kariwa voted against MOX use in an unprecedented referendum. The situation now appears to have reached a total deadlock and could have dramatic consequences for the main interested party, COGEMA, who is at present — together with Belgonucléaire — the only manufacturer of commercial MOX in the world.

What can we make of the MOX industry, which is currently a "bottleneck" for the flow of separated plutonium? With a three-cornered operation — comprising two COGEMA plants, the MELOX plant at Marcoule and the ATPu at Cadarache, as well as the Belgonucléaire plant at Dessel (see table, 'MOX Plants in the World: capacities and output at end of 2000') — Europe's maximum "absorption" capacity for plutonium is 13 tons per year. However, La Hague is able to separate more than 16 tons per year, while the BNFL THORP reprocessing plant at Sellafield (nominal capacity of 1,200 tons of irradiated fuel per year), if it were to operate at planned capacity, could produce an additional 10 tons of plutonium. What is the solution for this foundation stone of the plutonium sector if the plutonium facility at Cadarache were to close at the end of 2002? What then would be the fate of the plutonium belonging to Germany's electricity companies, presently the only clients of the ATPu at Cadarache?

The continual requests since 1995 for the "rapid closure of the installation" 5 illustrate the DSIN's concern over one of the most active seismic faults in France on which the French commission for atomic energy's Cadarache center (CEA Cadarache) is built, threatening the structural integrity of the ATPu in the case of an earth quake.

However, the ATPu is not the only installation affected by this problem. The Provence-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur DRIRE announced, on 18 April 2001, the schedule for closure of installations threatened by seismic disturbance: 2002 for the ATPu; 2006 for the Waste and Effluent Treatment Plant; 2010 for the Central Store of Fissile Materials; and 2015 for the Laboratory for the Inspection of Active Fuels. The waste store and Pégase storage installation are also due to be closed. However, no date had been announced by the end of April 2001.


The text signed on 11 June 2001 is apparently identical with the agreement dated 14 June 2000.

Then repeated, for example, by Libération, 1 August 2000.

3 See Briefing,
Then repeated, for example by the Financial Times,


5 DSIN letter of 28 March 1995: DSIN/GRE/SD1/N°134/9590

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