Transport Special - Plutonium Investigation n°6/7
 

Contamination Checks Are Anything But Representative

On 28 April 1998, the Gravelines power plant publishes a press release announcing the "reinforcement of the control measures". EDF continues to claim that "all the fuel shipments leaving the Gravelines power plant showed a superficial radioactivity below the international limit of 4 Bq/cm2". It says that in 1997" 8% of the check points controlled at Valognes on the shipments coming from Gravelines exceeded the limit of 4 Bq/cm2". In total 14 points of 300 cm2 each are checked with a wipe test on the cask surface and 17 points are checked on the surface of the rail car. One should note that a spent fuel cask is designed to present a very large surface, approximately 200 m2 so as to efficiently evacuate the heat of the spent fuel. Therefore the measured surface corresponds to about 0.2% of the total surface of a cask. This order of magnitude should be kept in mind while looking at figures stemming from routine controls. Even without being a genius in mathematics, the probability of "wiping" besides a particle of micron size should be fairly large. Also, there is no indication on the total surface of a rail car but the probability of detecting a hot particle with a system limited to 17 measuring points certainly remains very small.

Of course, the "deviation" noted at Valognes, "does not present any risk for the public". Of course the level of the "deviation" is not given. The press release adds that one of the rail cars showed a uniform level of contamination of "several hundred Bq/cm2 at the end of November 1997". The statement, of course, does not indicate that the contamination was found at the outside "accessible to the public", as the secret TRANSNUCLƒAIRE memo states. But it does state that "an internal inquiry is currently being carried out to determine the causes of this deviation". Does the inquiry start five months after the event or has it been going on for the past five months?

The same day, the first inspection ever takes place at the COGEMA Valognes transfer site. DSIN has invited OPRI - on short notice although the inspection had been scheduled, according to DSIN, for about a month - to join the inspection. Unfortunately, by coincidence, this very same day, not a single rail car nor spent fuel cask is available on site. Too bad for the inspectors.

It is only on 30 April 1998 that DSIN publishes its first press release on the affair. It states that "following the inspection carried out jointly by DSIN and OPRI on 28 April 1998 at the rail terminal of Valognes, property of COGEMA La Hague, it was noted that in 1997, 35% of the shipments used by EDF to transport its spent fuel to La Hague presented a surface contamination, at least on one spot, above the regulatory limit of 4ĘBq/cm2". Strange, DSIN's Lacoste had the same information one week before when he was confronted with the facts during the TV interview and he obtained the TRANSNUCLƒAIRE document the same day. Although the press release adds two new pieces of information - 44 rail cars were contaminated of which 10 on the outside and Swiss and German shipments were also found contaminated - it does not give any single figure on the contamination levels.

Between 30 April and 2 May 1998 my collegue Peter Winterberg from WDR station cuts a seven minute TV documentary in Cologne from the several hours of raw materials we had brought back. The piece is to be broadcast on the evening of 3 May 1998 in a political magazine programme called "Weltspiegel". In the afternoon the editors of Weltspiegel, prioritising some competing news item, decide to push back the broadcast for a fortnight. We strongly oppose that decision since we do not think the story will hold for another two weeks. Therefore we decide to propose at least a short cut of 2.5 minutes for the national late evening news as soon as possible. The news editors are very interested. After having proposed Tuesday, they decide on Monday 4 May 1998 last minute (at 5.45 p.m....) that they want it for that evening. Peter Winterberg manages to cut down what was meant to be a 7 minute documentary to 2.5 minutes. When it is broadcast, the introductory presentation is inappropriate and the information first goes almost unnoticed.

Back to contents                To be continued