Cadarache Special - Plutonium Investigation n°20

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 in 1913.

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 is unacceptable."

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 buildings".

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.

Previous page               To be continued (The industrial implications)
Back to contents