Germany - Plutonium Investigation n°4/5

Germany : Problem Export Expert

Germany was not permitted to engage in a nuclear programme directly after the Second World War. But it did not take long to catch up. For the establishment in 1957 of the first European nuclear consortium Eurochemic aiming to build a commercial reprocessing plant in Belgium, Germany played a key role. The signature of the EURATOM treaty in 1958, by which Germany transferred the State System of Accountancy and Control of nuclear materials to EURATOM, paved the way for the catch-up in plutonium-related technologies. An entire plutonium economy was established in the country, including commercial reprocessing plants and fast-breeder reactors.

Facing increasing political opposition, heightened by the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the nuclear industry in Germany was forced to cancel its domestic plutonium industry programme, even though very large sums had already been invested. The fast-breeder reactor programme was terminated in 1991, the site of the never-operated Kalkar reactor was turned into an amusement park. The reprocessing programme was stopped in 1989, the Wackersdorf site attracting solar cell and car part factories. Finally, the MOX industry at Hanau was shut down in 1994. The plutonium bunker on the site is to be emptied over the coming years.

However, instead of abandoning these high-risk activities, the German industry has turned towards its counterparts in neighbouring countries, notably France and the UK, which have been happy to take over. Currently, German electricity utilities have reprocessing agreements with COGEMA and BNFL, which separate plutonium from German spent nuclear fuel. Both companies, as well as the Belgian Belgonucléaire, produce plutonium bearing mixed oxide (MOX) fuel which is used in some of the German power plants.

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