Switzerland - Plutonium Investigation n°8
 

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Words of the month
What a waste

No figures of the month

Switzerland has agreed - in theory - to the contents of the recent "Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium" proposed by parties to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While these guidelines explicitly request countries to publish annual figures for the countries' plutonium stockpiles, Switzerland has never published such figures. However, in a 31 March 1998 "note verbale", the Permanent Mission to the IAEA of Switzerland comments: "In the last years, political opposition against reprocessing has grown. Fuel element transports to reprocessing plants are increasingly the target of anti-nuclear activities by environmental organisations". And this was one month before the scandal of the contaminated spent fuel transports was revealed.

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Words of the month

"It is striking that the [US-] Euratom and [US-] Swiss agreements have been concluded at precisely the time new governments in France and in the United Kingdom are questioning the wisdom of the totally uneconomic reprocessing, MOX, and breeder reactor programmes which British and French taxpayers have been saddled. Hopefully, these agreements will prove to be the 'last hurrah' of the old guard fuel cycle fraternity".

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Member Edward McGaffigan in a written statement in the framework of an interagency review process, according to Nuclear Fuel.

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What a waste

French Commission Against Geological Disposal of HLW

At the end of April, the French Government requested from the National Evaluation Commission (CNE) a report on the retrievability of the geological disposal of radioactive waste, in order to influence further research to be carried out by the national radioactive waste management agency ANDRA. The CNE was created on the basis of the 30 December 1991 Act on radioactive waste research to annually assess the evolution of research concerning the management of radioactive waste.

The CNE report, published at the beginning of July 1998, gives much importance to public acceptability: "No solution concerning the final disposal of nuclear waste will be found until the general public has been convinced of quality and sturdyness of the retained option".

Its conclusions are quite surprising, and go against the general official view that geological disposal is the ultimate solution for high-level radioactive waste (HLW). Since spent nuclear fuel contains nuclear materials which can be reused, the CNE recommends to store it in surface or subsurface storage facilities. The same storage option is recommended for HLW generated by reprocessing, on the basis that future research might identify a better solution. However, the CNE recommends - for unclear reasons - to dispose of intermediate-level radioactive waste in geological sites and thus "saves" the current government strategy.

Phénix Operated - Under Legal Jeopardy

Since the industrial-size Superphénix fast-breeder reactor has been abandoned by the current French government, governmental and industrial authorities have decided to carry out research concerning transmutation of long lived isotopes in the demonstration FBR Phénix.

At the end of May 1998, the Forum Plutonium, a French pressure group of organisations and people concerned about plutonium production and use, filed a complaint against the restart licence of Phénix. Forum Plutonium considers that its operation is unsafe, since the oldest French operating reactor is planned to undergo major refurbishment only after a period of operation. Furthermore, according to Forum Plutonium, the licensing is not legally sound. The original creation Bill should be nullified since the plant has not been operating for a period exceeding two years (a particularity of French law); also, the new objectives of the plant concerning nuclear research are not compatible with the original objective of being a demonstration nuclear power plant.

The Forum Plutonium filed the complaint at the Montpellier Administrative court. One decision has already been made: the case has been transferred by the highest administrative court (Conseil d'Etat) from Montpellier to the Paris administrative court. Knowing about the highly centralised and often government friendly Paris administration, this is hardly a good sign for the Forum Plutonium. Nevertheless, the rumour goes that a confidential government legal analysis shows that the complaint has excellent chances for success.

Contact : Jean-Pierre Morichaud, Forum Plutonium
Tel : +33 (0)4 7527 9767
Fax : +33 (0)4 7527 9846

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