Closure of the ATPu, a Reprieve?
An IPSN report 16 dating from
March 1994 established that seismic activity in the Cadarache region
"shows significant recurrence since the end of December 1993."
The document also states that a segment of the Durance fault, a few
kilometers from the center, "experienced an event with an intensity
of VII-VIII on 20 March 1812." The environs of Cadarache are the
seat of destructive seismic disturbances (maximum intensities reach
VIII on the qualitative MSK scale 17) with a return
period of around a century. The most recent event of this type occurred
On 27 January 1995, a meeting on this subject brought
together Mr. Lacoste (head of DSIN), and managers from CEA, IPSN and
COGEMA. The DSIN expressed the view 18 that the
analysis presented by the IPSN "indicates the necessity of rapid
closure of the installation." The DSIN "requested that COGEMA
should propose a scheme for the future of the ATPu, including a definitive
and irreversible closure date for the installation shortly after 2000."
On 22 October 1997, in spite of "several reminders
on his part" (June 1995 and June 1996) Mr Lacoste renewed his request
19 in a letter addressed not to COGEMA but to the
Director of CEA/Cadarache, in which he concluded that "the situation
In December 1997, a joint letter 20
from COGEMA and CEA provided a reply from the "operator", in December
1997. Both organizations recognized that "since 1991, in-depth consideration
has been given to the examination of [its] behavior in the event of
an earthquake", indicating that "reinforcement of existing structures
would be extremely complex to implement." The solution they
proposed was "the creation of an entirely new superstructure which
would fully encompass the 'powder handling' part of the existing installation
] and would guarantee confinement of [nuclear] materials"
in the event of a safe shutdown earthquake (SSE), the most serious earthquake
to be considered for safety.21 Giving assurances
that studies "had concluded that such a project was feasible",
they envisaged "being able to make the decision as to the actual
creation of this superstructure in the autumn of 1999."
In February 1998 22, Mr Lacoste
turned to the General Administrator of the CEA. In his letter he referred
to the superstructure project as "having attendant uncertainties"
and stating that its "innovative nature [
] meant that it ran
counter to [his] wishes", expressed in January 1995. He therefore
confirmed that the project "does not correspond to [his] demand."
In the event of the corresponding scheme not being presented to him
shortly, he threatened, though without giving details, "to take the
necessary steps to remedy this situation."
It was only on 30 January 2001 that the Director of
the DSIN, still (according to him) without response from COGEMA, declared
that the "DSIN would take the necessary steps vby order to close
the plant by the end of 2002." Asked about this by Plutonium Investigation
two days later, Mr Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier, COGEMA's spokesman, declared
that COGEMA had provided proposals to the Minister of Environment, Ms
Dominique Voynet, and to the Secretary of State for Industry, Mr Christian
Pierret, in September 2000. The spokesman was unwilling to make a statement
as to the terms of the COGEMA's proposals but underlined that "the
primary constraint is clear: it is the seismic situation." According
to Plutonium Investigation's information, COGEMA, in a letter to the
two supervising ministers, repeated its proposal to close Cadarache
on condition that it obtained an authorization to increase annual production
for the MELOX plant at Marcoule. It is also in these terms that COGEMA
presented its "closure plan" to the Director of the DSIN in its letter
of 1 March 2001.23 This proposal remains unacceptable,
at least to one of the two ministers in charge.
Finally, on 18 April 2001, the Provence-Alpes-Côtes
d'Azur DRIRE, in a press conference on safety at the CEA's center at
Cadarache in the year 2000, recalled that the "ASN [i.e. DSIN] would
see that [ ] the Atelier de Technologie du Plutonium (ATPu) for
which the ability to withstand an earthquake has not been demonstrated
would cease activity soon." Echoing this, the CGT Mines-Energie
trade union, in a communiqué of 20 April 2001, called on COGEMA
to "examine a re-deployment plan for the 350 employees of the CFCa
as soon as possible."
16 IPSN Report, 1994, Technical Note SERGD 94/13.
17 In a press file of January 1997 , the 'IPSN described the degree of
intensity of level VIII of the MSK scale which goes from I to XII
as seismic effects including: "massive damage; the most vulnerable
houses are destroyed; almost all experience severe damage."
18 DSIN letter of 28 March 1995: DSIN/GRE/SD1/N°134/95.
19 DSIN letter of 22 October 1997: DSIN/FAR/SD1/N°11708/97.
20 CEA-COGEMA letter of 11 December 1997, signed by Mr Marcel de la Gravières
and Mr Philippe Pradel, then Director of CEA/Cadarache and Deputy Director
of the COGEMA reprocessing division: DIR/CSN 97/982 - BR/SX 97/18.
21 The safe shutdown earthquake (SSE) is the historically most likely
maximum earthquake of which the intensity on the MSK scale is increased
by one point. For the ATPu this is level IX which the IPSN, in its 1997
press file (see above), indicates as resulting in "destruction of many
22 DSIN letter of 23 February 1998: DSIN/GRE/SD1/N°35/98.
23 Letter of 21 March 2001, from Mr Yves Coupin to Mr André Claude
Lacoste, available on COGEMA website.
be continued (The industrial implications)