Germany - Plutonium Investigation n°4/5

News !

Words of the month
Superphénix inquiry

Figure of the month

The La Hague reprocessing plants operate very successfully not only for France but especially for foreign clients. Of the 12,124 t of cumulated throughtput of light water reactor fuel as of 1 March 1998, close to 60% or 7,105 t were of foreign origin, of which exactly half or 3,552 t were discharged from German reactors. At its current rate, without any major technical incident or accident, the foreign "base load" contracts of 7,000 t could be fulfilled by the end of the year 2000 (the foreign UP2 contracts having already been executed). It would take COGEMA until the end of 2001 to process all of the 8,156 t under contract. The French utility EDF has not signed any follow-up contract yet. The only substantial quantity (roughly 2,000 t) under - very flexible - contract after the turn of the century has been signed up for by the German utilities. No wonder COGEMA follows election results in Germany closely.

Reprocessing at the French La Hague Plant
(in metric tons of heavy metal as of 1 march 1998)
in UP2
in UP3
    Total reprocessed
by country
France   5,019   0   5,019
Germany   1,643   1.909   3,552
Japan   151   2.223   2.374
Switzerland   132   229   361
Netherlands   85   141   226
Belgium   139   453   592
Total   7,169   4.955   12,124

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Words of the month

Bayernwerk AG Chairman Otto Majewski wrote to Federal Minister of Finance Theo Waigel on 24 June 1997 that if the Federal government goes ahead with its plans to tax utility reserves which are earmarked for reprocessing, "reprocessing, as an alternative to geological disposal, would in the future be eliminated as a spent fuel management option". He warned that "if reprocessing contracts with France and Britain are cancelled or limited, [this would bring] unforeseeable consequences for relations with Britain and France". Given growing opposition to foreign reprocessing in France, these consequences may be rather positive.

" One does not solve problems in exporting them», stated Klaus Töpfer in February 1997, then German minister for local development, about the reprocessing in France of spent fuel from German nuclear power plants and the return to Germany of the generated radioactive waste.

Töpfer, now heading the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, has been a long time minister for environment and nuclear safety. He continued by saying in an interview with WISE-Paris that he was conscious that these problems had to be taken care of "at home": "I am entirely convinced that, in some cases, we should be more honest with ourselves and clearly say that we have not avoided the risk but that we have only shifted it.

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Superphénix Inquiry

The French National Assembly has voted unanimously in favour of the establishment of an inquiry committee to investigate "the conditions under which the creation, the building and the abandonment of Superphenix were decided, its consequences for the fast neutron and breeder reactor line, and the lessons which have been drawn from this experience in the scientific, administrative, financial, political and environmental areas".

The pro-nuclear lobby hopes to be able to put into question the government's decision to shut down Superphénix for good, and the critical MPs try to highlight the countless errors and failures of the breeder programme from the beginning. Also, in July 1977, extremely violent riot police broke up a demonstration of 50,000 people; one demonstrator lost his life, and over one hundred people were injured.

The initiator of the bill for the establishment of the inquiry committee, right winger and long term nuclear lobbyist Robert Galley, had actually thought limiting the mandate of the committee to look at "the shutdown of Superphénix and its consequences on employment, research and orientation of the French energy policy". No surprise he did not think of investigating the past: Galley was part of the Barre government which forced through the construction of Superphénix against massive opposition.

The socialist MP Michèle Rivasi delicately reminded the Assembly of the fact that a similar request for the establishment of an inquiry committee was voted down by the right wing majority... in December 1976.

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