The industrial implications
In the strategy put in place by COGEMA, the distribution
of production between Marcoule and Cadarache is clear: MELOX produces
MOX for pressurized water reactors (PWR) on its first line (intended
for EDF), and MOX for boiling water reactors for Japanese clients and
potentially for German clients on its second line. The ATPu produces
MOX for PWRs for German clients.
In this way, the Cadarache site, which has ISO 9002
and ISO 14001 certification, also obtained the KTA (Kerntechnischer
Ausschuss) label specific to the quality standards of the German nuclear
industry. The ATPu has been managed for several years by the former
director (of German nationality) of the MOX plant at Hanau, in Germany,
which has been out of production since 1991.
According to the German operator Preussen-Elektra (on
1 January 2000), 262.6 tons of MOX fuel remain under contract for delivery
to German clients.24 The plants available in Europe
for this are (theoretically): BNFL's MDF plant at Sellafield (UK);
the Belgonucléaire plant at Dessel (Belgium); and the COGEMA
plants at Marcoule (MELOX) and Cadarache (ATPu).
Until now, Cadarache and Dessel represented two-thirds
of the German fuel imports. To fulfill its contracts with the German
electricity companies, COGEMA at Cadarache would have to run its fabrication
facility until at least 2006 (with output of 40 tons per year).
As imports of MOX from BNFL are now suspended (after
the problems described above), only the Dessel and Marcoule plants can,
theoretically, propose an alternative in the event of closure of the
ATPu. In practice, moving the activity to the Belgian company does not
appear possible, given the specifications of the Dessel plant and its
full order books.
"Blackmail" by COGEMA.
COGEMA's current intention is to continue production
at Cadarache. Given the risk of an inadequate ability to withstand earthquakes,
the DSIN has repeatedly requested 25, since January
1995, that while awaiting the requested closure of the facility
"compensatory measures be introduced immediately, for example,
on the source term." This request has not prevented production from
surpassing the 1995 level (31.2 tHM) since 1998, even going beyond
the announced production capacity for the MOX-PWR production line (35
tHM per year).
In parallel, the DSIN recorded six occasions between
1991 and 1997 on which the 1 per cent limit on americium in the plutonium
stored at the ATPu was exceeded (of which three were in the years 1996
and 1997 alone). Highly radiotoxic, americium results from the decay
of plutonium, and constitutes a problem for radiological protection
and safety. However, the operator states in a letter that "large-scale
investment, decided in 1991, and introduced progressively between 1993
and 1996 [
] has allowed a reduction in the quantities of material
present within the equipment at any given moment." 26
COGEMA clearly wishes to gain maximum profit from the ATPu: "from
the industrial point of view, it would be highly desirable to obtain
a return on the major investments [
] made since 1991."
Would it be possible for COGEMA to transfer the production
of MOX for Germany to MELOX? The company's response is negative, as
affirmed in the letter already mentioned: "for technical, industrial
and administrative reasons, no other installations would be able to
fulfill this mission at present." The "technical" reasons
do not, in reality, appear of prime importance: production of MOX for
German PWRs is possible at MELOX, even though it would require some
technical adjustments. It is the administrative and commercial constraints
that are the determining factor. With a load factor of 100 per cent
and authorized annual production of 101.3 tHM, the MELOX plant cannot
take on additional MOX production without reducing the quantities manufactured
for EDF. Now, under the present contracts for reprocessing between EDF
and COGEMA, all of the MELOX output would not be sufficient to ensure
the equality of flows established as a principle by the national electricity
company.27 And, it is now known that MELOX's work
load includes the production of MOX for Japanese BWRs and possibly German
This saturation was predictable, and was foreseen by
COGEMA and by the safety authority. As of January 1995, the DSIN associated
its request for closure of the installation with a proposal for "two
intermediary stages, one around 1995 relative to the decision as to
whether or not to include authorization for a MOX plant in the new decrees
authorizing La Hague, the other, around 1997, relative to the actual
decision to build the plant." 28
For COGEMA, the solution is not at La Hague but at Marcoule: its project
for MELOX is to reach a production level of 250 tons of oxide per year,
far greater than the 115 tons authorized when the first production line
was commissioned and maintained at the commissioning of the second one.
This is why the operator of the ATPu does not envisage
closure of the installation in the present administrative situation:
in its response of 1998 to the DSIN, it states when referring to production
at the ATPu, that: "in the future, only MELOX, with technical and
administrative capacity extended to 250 tons per year of MOX production,
will be able to provide such manufacture."
And it concludes that "in these conditions, shutting
down the ATPu cannot be envisaged, from the industrial point of view,
before the MELOX plant has been developed as described above." For
the safety authority, this constitutes "blackmail", as attested
by a comment in the margin of the letter in question 29.
No way out for German plutonium
Closure of the ATPu at the end of 2002 would have serious
consequences not only for COGEMA but would also trigger a complete overhaul
of the German strategy for plutonium management. The 40 tons of MOX
produced annually at Cadarache for German electricity companies absorb
more than 2 tons of plutonium. The remaining 262.2 tons under contract
at the start of 2000 represent more than 15 tons of plutonium, or the
equivalent plutonium content of the 1,652 tons of irradiated fuel still
under contract (including the 1,127 tons termed "post-2000") for reprocessing
at La Hague. In case of closure of Cadarache, there would be no alternative
outlet route for the German plutonium separated in the La Hague plants
by 2005, and the question can be posed as to the decisions Germany might
take concerning its reprocessing contracts. On this subject, Mr Wolfram
König, the head of Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (BfS)
a state agency and sort of mixture of the DSIN, ANDRA and OPRI
has declared that: 30
"Reprocessing is limited under the consensus agreement
until 2005.31 The companies have the possibility
of fulfilling former contracts. In the future, we will see if, finally,
the companies will use this. There are already at present amongst
other things economic arguments in favor of not fulfilling them.
The key model envisaged at present as the solution by the Federal Government
avoiding transport by direct storage [of irradiated fuel] and
storage of waste on nuclear power station sites will certainly
be a success."
24 PreussenElektra table presented to the "Plutonium-Workshop", 13-14
January 2000, in Jülich, Germany.
25 This request, reported in the meeting report of 27 January 1995, was,
for example, repeated in the letter of 22 October 1997.
26 CEA-COGEMA letter of 11 December 1997: DIR/CSN 97/982 - BR/SX 97/18.
27 EDF has around 850 tons of plutonium reprocessed each year at the La
Hague plant, producing between 8 and 8.5 tons of plutonium. With, at present,
an average plutonium content for MOX of around 6 per cent, it would be
necessary to produce around 135 to 150 tons of MOX to use up the plutonium
separated each year. At the maximum level of 7.08 per cent of plutonium
in the MOX, authorized since the end of 1998, MELOX nominal capacity of
101.3 tons is not sufficient to use up more than 7.2 tons of plutonium
in a year. The present situation therefore, inevitably, leads to an increasing
stock of plutonium "on the shelf".
28 DSIN letter of 28 March 1995: DSIN/GRE/SD1/N°134/95.29 CEA-COGEMA
letter of 11 December 1997: DIR/CSN 97/982 - BR/SX 97/18.
30 Phoenix-TV, 27 March 2001
31 In fact, the agreement between the German Government and the major
nuclear operators stipulates that transport to reprocessing plants
would no longer be allowed after July 2005. The fuel stored in the reprocessing
plants can be processed later.
be continued (Plut'Info: Figures,
Words of the month, Worth