The ATPu and Monitoring of MOX Production
The international context
The BNFL scandal and its international repercussions
have dented the confidence of many electricity companies (especially
Japanese and German) in the European MOX sector. Falsifying of MOX quality
control data in the BNFL plant at Sellafield, resulting in reports from
the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) that mentioned "systematic
management failures", led nuclear reactor operators to carry out
audits on all of the MOX producers. In the light of the "scandal", the
Irish, Danish and Norwegian governments, signatories to the OSPAR Convention
14 and firmly opposed to reprocessing, denounced
the polluting effects of the activity. The Danish proposal submitted
to the OSPAR Commission, and demanding "suspending of reprocessing
] with immediate effect", finally received the necessary
support of three-quarters of the signatories to the Convention and came
into force on 16 January 2001. France and Great Britain, however, did
not vote, allowing them not to commit and thus reducing the effectiveness
of the resolution as it does not include the two major reprocessing
The reaction of Japanese operators was to require audits
of the Sellafield production line, to forbid any further shipment of
spent fuel to the U.K. reprocessing plant, and to demand that BNFL take
back the MOX involved. Germany, then Switzerland and Sweden, also froze
their MOX programs with BNFL. Even the British operator British Energy
seems decided to abandon reprocessing rapidly.15
The only good news for BNFL is that it appears that the company was
able to secure an agreement with the German electricity company E.On
for manufacture of MOX. No details of this had been published at the
end of May 2001.
The Japanese and then German audits did not spare other
manufacturers. A delegation from Japan's Ministry of International Trade
and Industry (MITI) and representatives of Japanese companies visited
the Belgonucléaire plant in Belgium to check on the efficiency
of quality control, and German operators checked the quality at Cadarache.
Questions of quality at Cadarache
It was in this context that COGEMA indicated to two
German companies, Siemens and the electricity company Bayernwerk, "a
malfunction which occurred in a software" at the ATPu. The two companies
carried out a joint "contradictory" audit at the Cadarache plant.
The malfunction concerned a batch of fuel sent to the ISAR-2 power plant,
operated by Bayernwerk, in December 1999. The software in question recorded
the second check on statistical samples of fuel pellets. A COGEMA communiqué
of 30 March 2000, describing the function of the software as recording
"secondary tests", states that "the computer system error
] did not affect the quality of MOX produced at Cadarache."
This is the same formula as that used by BNFL regarding its incriminated
fuel. The deficient stage the second quality control point for
diameter of pellets is also identical to the U.K. case. The incident
was not classified on the INES scale.
14 The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the
North-East Atlantic, ratified by the contracting parties (including France)
on 25 March 1998, at Sintra, Portugal.
15 Mr Michael Kirwan, Financial Director of British Energy, declared,
in The Independen" national newspaper, 11 May 2000: "From our
point of view, reprocessing is an economic absurdity and should be stopped
immediately." On 19 May, The Guardian confirmed that British
Energy had started negotiations with BNFL to end its reprocessing contracts
and convert to storage of spent fuel.
be continued (Closure of the ATPu, a Reprieve?)