Belgium - Plutonium Investigation n°9

Revealing Government Declaration on Low-Level Waste

Elio Di Rupo, then Energy Minister, answered written parliamentary questions concerning radioactive waste on 18 February 1998. The answers he gave initiated a controversy since this was the first time a country client of the COGEMA reprocessing plant officially admitted that low-level radioactive waste was not to be returned from France. Previously, it was believed Belgium was planning for the return of such waste and had taken it into account in the design of future storage facilities. In response to the question: what is the planned schedule for the return of low-level radioactive waste (so-called Category A or A-level waste) from the reprocessing of Belgian spent fuel at the La Hague reprocessing plant, the Minister replied: "The execution of the reprocessing contracts does no longer plan the return to Belgium of A-level waste". And to the question: how was it the quantity of A-level radioactive waste had been reduced since the previous official estimate, the Minister replied "12,000 m3 A-level waste from the reprocessing of fuel is not taken into account anymore". These answers, together with other declarations from the Minister on the same subject, provoked comment in the national Press and a press release from the Belgian Greenpeace office. The Minister's office itself then issued a press release stating that it would respect all the international engagements and bilateral engagements with France it had signed, and that all the reprocessing waste in France from Belgian spent fuel would be sent back to Belgium. The whole matter is typical of the information concerning reprocessing. COGEMA and its customers have agreed to bypass the regulation, and the less information they give to the public the less explanation they have to give of what is actually planned. What COGEMA is currently saying on the issue is that it is planning new conditioning processes for the reprocessing waste, which would significantly concentrate and compress low-level radioactive waste. Such waste would be incorporated with high-level radioactive waste from reprocessing, and thus effectively no low-level radioactive waste should be generated. However, this planned modification of the reprocessing processes does not affect the waste which has already been generated. Belgian spent fuel has been reprocessed in France since the middle of the 1970s and low-level radioactive waste produced from the reprocessing of Belgian spent fuel has been stored in a final storage facility called the Centre de stockage de la Manche, which is adjacent to the La Hague reprocessing plant. The French administration does not seem to mind this fact and has not expedited the processing of a complaint which was filed as early as January 1994 by then Green European Member of Parliament, Didier Anger, who lives close to La Hague. COGEMA does not intend sending back the actual waste arisings which were physically produced during the reprocessing of the spent fuel from any given country; rather the company is keeping an account based on complex equivalency calculations for the (future?) attribution of the waste. To complicate things further, the Belgian waste management agency, ONDRAF, has stated that waste generated at La Hague under the first reprocessing contracts, which did not contain a return clause for waste, would not be sent back - whatever the current legal situation in France. Trouble inevitably lies ahead.

Back to contents                To be continued
The Failure of EUROCHEMIC