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
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
3 See Briefing, http://www.wise-paris.org/english/ournews/year_2000/ournews001222.html
Then repeated, for example by the Financial Times,
5 DSIN letter of 28 March 1995: DSIN/GRE/SD1/N°134/9590
be continued (The Cadarache Nuclear Studies Center)