La Hague (France)

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Reprocessing plant

Facilities in La Hague

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La Haguereprocessing plant
The European Parliament released a consultancy study on the potential risks posed by nuclear fuel reprocessing operations in the UK and France. It concludes that the European Commission has failed to verify the accuracy of safety data and therefore cannot "guarantee" that standards are being met; that radioactive discharges from both sites violate the OSPAR convention on the protection of the north east Atlantic; that reprocessing operations cannot be ruled out as a cause of higher leukaemia rates near the plants; and that the "great uncertainties" in assessment of health effects mean that reprocessing runs contrary to the precautionary principle. In the study there are also policy recommendations for the restriction or the ending of reprocessing. It also lists a range of measures to improve public access to data and expert opinion on health risks. WISE PARIS ? Draft Final Report for the STOA Panel: Possible toxic effects from the nuclear reprocessing plants at Sellafield and cap de la Hague:

In a debate in the European parliament about potential terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants or nuclear fuel reprocessing plants Irish Green M EP Nuala Ahern is calling for "no fly zones" to be established around Sellafield in Britain and La Hague in France.


The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published a study of leukaemia cases around the reprocessing plant in La Hague. The result is an "increased incidence" of the disease in young people living within an 10 kilometre radius of the facility. The incidence of leukaemia in a 35 km radius of the plant is "consistent with the expected value". The authors of this study recommend further monitoring and investigations at certain types of leukaemia near La Hague and possibly other reprocessing plants.


Dispute between France and Germany about the return of waste left over from reprocessing of fuel from German power stations at la hague. The French government refused to accept any more spent fuel for reprocessing at La Hague plant until Germany opened the door for return shipments.

Resolving the issue is becoming a matter of urgency because some German nuclear power stations are running out of space to store spent fuel and could eventually be forced to stop operating unless transports restart. "The problem is serious and we can only wait about a half a year", said a spokesperson for the German Atomic Forum.

Having earlier argued that a lack of storage facilities was the main obstacle to accepting the return of reprocessed nuclear fuel, Mr Schröder said that the principal problem was opposition by some German states..

International shipments of spent nuclear fuel from Germany to La Hague reprocessing plant in France have been prevented from restarting this week by last minute rows at home and abroad. The German radiation authority, BfS, recently gave the go-ahead for a total of eight international shipments of nuclear waste from the Stade, Biblis and Philippsburg power stations. This followed a two-year break in shipments following discovery of radioactive contamination on the surface of rail containers. Now, residents neighbouring the railway along which the fuel was due to be transported are contesting the BfS decision with support from environmental group Greenpeace. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the transports face a tougher political challenge in the form of a French environment ministry decision not to accept any more German waste until reprocessed fuel already stored at La Hague has been taken back by Germany. The German environment ministry says there are no facilities to receive the material. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French prime minister Lionel Jospin have now taken personal charge of the disagreement. Follow-up: German environment ministry (
La Hague nuclear reprocessing plant in France is discharging larger radioactive particles than permitted, Greenpeace claimed yesterday after sampling wastewater leaving La Hague's waste pipe, off the Normandy coast. Greenpeace made a similar claim in 1997 after a previous sampling exercise. Cogema today denied Greenpeace's accusation, as it did two years ago. According to Greenpeace, independent analysis of water samples from the end of La Hague's discharge pipe revealed a number of particles larger than the regulatory limit of 25 µg, plus a total level of radioactivity higher than allowed. In the case of cobalt 60, it said, levels found were 560 times that permitted under the 1996 EU directive on ionising radiation. A spokesperson for Cogema denied the allegations. Follow-up: Greenpeace Cogema

A study group, lead by the Institute for Protection & Nuclear Safety (IPSN), was commissioned by the French health and environment ministers last September as part of a concerted effort to determine whether t the La Hague reprocessing complex - might be responsible for a cluster of childhood leukemias in the area.
The hypothesis of an association between the Cotentin facilities and a slight increase in childhood leukemia incidence in the 1978-93 period was raised by two French epidemiologists, J.F. Viel and Dominique Pobel, in an article published in the British Medical Journal in January 1997, generating a mountain of controversy and alarming the local population.
Besides La Hague, the study covers Andra´s La Manche low- and intermediate-level waste burial ground, now closed, and EDF's Flamanville nuclear power plant.
In a first interim report produced last December, the study group found that Cogema´s calculations of the impact of the La Hague emissions were roughly equivalent o those by other organizations, indicating that the excess leukemia incidence couldn´t be linked to the reprocessing plant. An initial review by the Spira group also showed no excess of cancer in the Beaumont-Hague canton studied by Viel and Pobel over the more recent 1994-97 period, supporting that conclusion.
A first subgroup has undertaken a ciritcal review of the La Hague facilities´historical emissions, based on the radionuclide content of the spent fuel fed to the plant.
That review had led to several corrections of Cogema´s data, including an increase in the amount of gaseous krypton-85 assumed to have been released from the reprocessing plant stack. Tthe group also assumed release of 42 fission products, about three times the number assumed by Cogema.
The second sub-group is studying the transfer of the radioelements in the environment and verifying operator´s estimates for dilution factors. The third is reviewing actual measurements in the environment around the Cotentin facilities, including over 300.000 measurements relative to liquid emissions. The data on plant emissions plus the pathway models will be compared to the real measurements.
DSIN has asked Cogema to "explore alternatives" for reducing liquid and gaseous radioactive emissions and specify their impact on solid waste production, so that the public can judge which is the best option.


Spent fuel transports, suspended since early last month, could resume in France as early as next week, if the ministers in charge agree. Given the political sensitivity of anything nuclear, however, it's not certain the ministers will be in a hurry to free the transports.
The director of the nuclear safety agency DSIN, said that he considers reasonable a package of measures proposed by Electricite de France (EDF) to prevent recurrence of excess surface contamination on convoys of spent fuel from nuclear power plant sites to Cogema´s La Hague reprocessing plant.
The French national railway company, SNCF, suspended all spent fuel shipments May 7 in the wake of revelations that convoys with minor excess contamination had rolled on French tracks for over a decade without the knowledge of authorities or rail workers.
Among the measures proposed by EDF is a pledge to tell DSIN every time any convoy arriving at Valognes measures over 4 Bq per square centimeter - the statutory limit - at any contamination measurement point, and to signal "incidents" of contamination exceeding 100 Bq/cm².
The utility plans a number of technical measures to ensure that casks are clean when they leave spent fuel pools, mainly encasing them in vinyl covers and washing them more thoroughly before they are loaded on rail platforms for transport.


Electricite de France (EDF) has failed to properly decontaminate spent fuel casks for at least a decade, and EDF, Cogema and Transnucleaire (TN) failed to take the matter seriously enough. The French government, too, was at fault in failing to exercise regulatory control over nuclear transports in France until last year.
A report was ordered on May 6 after it was revealed that not only were a quarter of the spent fuel casks leaving EDF nuclear sites as "clean" in 1997 found to be contaminated above the statutory limit when they arrived at the Valognes rail terminal near Cogema´s La Hague reprocessing plant, but also 44 rail cars - 35% of the total - were found contaminated, including 10 with external contamination.
Both Swiss and German authorities, alerted by DSIN to the contamination of casks from their countries arriving at Valognes, suspended the shipment of spent fuel pending further action by SNCF.
OPRI confirmed that none of the 14 employees at the Valognes rail terminal received a dose last year even close to the statutory limit of 50 milliSievert (the highest dose was 3,85 mSv).
DSIN´s investigation revealed that 25% of the 208 spent fuel casks leaving EDF nuclear sites in 1997 arrived at Valognes with above average surface contamination. Several convoys had contamination of 200 Bq/cm2; one particular spot measured 8,000 Bq/cm2. A rail car coming from the Gravelines nuclear power plant had uniform external contamination averaging 400 Bq/cm2, with a maximum of 700 Bq/cm2.


In January Greenpeace divers were starting a marine sampling operation, despite the current wealth of monitoring data that shows La Hague has a minimal impact on the environment. The campaign against reprocessing, and nuclear energy in general, was given a major boost by the publication in January of a report in the British Medical Journal. The report was compiled by research epidemiologist Dominique Pobel and Dr. Jean-François Viel, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the faculty of medicine at Besançon University. The objective of the study was "to investigate the association between childhood leukaemia and established risk factors or other factors related to La Hague nuclear waste reprocessing plant". The Pobel-Viel report concluded: "There is some convincing evidence in childhood leukaemia of a causal role for environmental radiation exposure from recreational activities on beaches." According to Pobel and Viel, the association between lifestyle factors and the development of leukaemia among young people suggests radioactive contamination through an environmental route.
Soon after the study started making headlines, the Medical Co-ordinator of the Cogema Group, Jean-Marie Gelas, said that although Dr. Viel had reported an "excess" of leukaemia cases from the consumption of fish and shellfish and from sea-bathing, he had not established any correlation between such an excess and the existence of La Hague. Measurements, he said, have shown that the nuclear installations at La Hague have a "negligible" impact on the local environment.
Another assessment of the study's findings was given in July by Professor Charles Souleau, who until a few weeks ago headed a government-established scientific committee probing the La Hague issue. He said in an interview that the Pobel-Viel figures showed no leukaemia excess in the Nord Cotentin area as a whole between 1978 and 1992, roughly the period covered by the study, although a "numerical excess" was found in the Beaumont-Hague area four cases where only 1.4 would be expected. He added: " This excess remains below the level of statistical significance; it could be chance, but should nonetheless be monitored. Statistically, there could be 100 different areas in France with similar 'clusters'." The Souleau commission issued its preliminary conclusions at the beginning of July, indicating that there were "no elements pointing to confirmation of an abnormal rise in the number of leukaemia cases in the population". Another commission statement read: "Taking into account the numerous environmental measurements that have been done, it is logical a priori to think that these doses are probably weak and could hardly explain an excess of leukaemia."
Meanwhile, OPRI, the government agency responsible for public protection against ionising radiation, has set out its position regarding the Pobel-Viel study and the environmental impact of the La Hague plant. The organisation said in a statement: "The rate of child leukaemia observed in Nord Cotentin from 1978 to 1992 was no higher than elsewhere in France. OPRI repeats that the artificial radioactivity resulting from nuclear activities in Nord Cotentin, and permanently monitored, represents 1 to 2% of the local natural radioactivity. It is also 25 to 50 times lower than the new EU limit for exposure of the public set at 1 mSv per year over and above natural exposure.
In May, faced with a systematic Greenpeace media campaign, Cogema had this to say about its discharges from La Hague: "The total maximum impact of the whole of the liquid and gaseous discharges from the Cogema-La Hague plant amounts to less than 1% of the current impact limit as set by the international organisations (5 mSv/year). The methods used to determine this impact have been approved by government authorities and are periodically re-examined by French and international experts." One month later, the French secretary of state for health instructed OPRI to immediately conduct an analysis of the marine environment (water, sediment, flora and fauna) around the sea discharge point of La Hague's effluent pipe.
The sampling revealed the following data concerning the seabed :
· radioactivity of about 100 Bq/g in a radius of 2.5 metres around the pipe exit,
· radioactivity of about 10 Bq/g at a distance of 40 metres along the pipe axis,
· no detectable (additional) radioactivity 50 metres from the pipe,
· no average radioactivity above 1 Bq/kg in fish and seafood samples.
The results indicated the restricted localisation of this level of seabed radioactivity in an area of a few square metres around the pipe exit.
Measurements taken by OPRI near the beaches detected no radioactivity above the natural radioactivity level. The organisation described the government-imposed ban on fishing and swimming near La Hague as "unwarranted" from a scientific point of view. The measurements around the outlet of the effluent pipe had shown that discharges were diluted almost immediately to "insignificant levels".
In July, in yet another attempt to put the environmental impact of the La Hague plant into context, Cogema issued a factsheet which said that the total health impact on the population of the liquid and gaseous releases from the plant was extremely low, i.e. 0.02 mSv/year.

The French plutonium company COGEMA is in the midst of signing secret nuclear waste storage contracts with German reactor operators. Greenpeace has warned that the contracts, which violate French law, could turn France into an international nuclear dump.
"No wonder COGEMA and the German utilities are negotiating in secret--these contracts are illegal and will never be accepted by the French public," said Jean-Luc Thierry of Greenpeace France. "COGEMA must be stopped from turning France into an international nuclear waste cemetery."
"Germany should deal with its own nuclear waste problem," said Helmut Hirsch of Greenpeace Germany. "German government and
utility officials are playing a very cynical game: on one hand they call for consensus talks involving the opposition but at the same time they are in the midst of secret negotiations which make
those talks a masquerade."
Greenpeace provided details on the secret negotiations based on a document and information leaked by internal sources. According to
the leaked information, COGEMA, the French governmentally-controlled reprocessing company, has entered into one on one negotiations with a number of the utilities which operate German
nuclear reactors. The powerful Prussenelektra is leading the talks on the German side and is in the final stages of closing on a new contract. While many of the utilities signed plutonium
separation or "reprocessing" contracts in the past, most if not all of the companies have become concerned about the lack of commercial justification for continued reprocessing and plutonium stockpiling.
COGEMA has therefore desperately changed its marketing strategy: they are offering to store the utility's nuclear waste and plutonium. This offer has great attraction for the German utilities whose efforts to store their nuclear waste domestically
have met with great public and political resistance.
Accordingly, COGEMA has offered contracts which would allow: *The storage of the irradiated nuclear fuel generated by the German utilities' nuclear reactors. There is no requirement that the
fuel be reprocessed and the storage offer can apparently be extended through contract renewals after 10 or 15 years.
*Should the fuel be reprocessed, COGEMA has offered to take control of the resulting plutonium. In addition they offer to at least temporarily store the resulting high level nuclear waste and
permanently store the tremendous volume of so-called low and intermediate nuclear waste.

In support of its contention that the contracts offered are prohibited by domestic law, Greenpeace rereleased a memo that the current French Environment Minister, Corinne Lepage had prepared in 1994. At that time, Ms. Lepage, a well known lawyer, provided Greenpeace with a memo analyzing a leaked document detailing the
new contract negotiations. In her memo, Lepage concluded that various elements of such contracts would be questionable under
French law.
Now as a Minister in the Chirac government, Ms. Lepage has not only denied knowledge of the contract negotiations but is herself
implicated in the process of closing on the illegal deal.
Ms Lepage is in fact scheduled to meet with her German counterpart, Environment Minister Angela Merkel at COGEMA's la Hague reprocessing plant on Tuesday, February 13. It is believed
that the meeting may well be the occasion for the signing of the first of the German waste storage contracts.

"We call on Ministers Lepage and Merkel to take advantage of the meeting at la Hague to publicly reveal the details of the waste contracts under negotiation," said Damon Moglen of Greenpeace International. "It is clear that these contracts will affect public health and the environment for many generations to come so this decision can not and must not be made in secret without public consultation and agreement."


Contracts to manufacture mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for German utilities were signed in 1994-95.
The contracts cover manufacture of MOX fuel from plutonium separated from German spent fuel under the so-called UP3 baseload contracts concluded in the late 1970s between Cogema and the utilities.
It has long been known that the contracts were under negotiation, to substitute for fabrication the utilities originally contracted in the Siemens MOX fuel plant at Hanau, officially canceled last year.
Cogema will fabricate 25 metric tons heavy metal of MOX fuel (containing 5-6% plutonium) per year, over a decade, for the German utilities at its Cadarache MOX fuel plant. Half of the latter´s capacity will be freed beginning this year by the startup of the much larger Melox plant at Marcoule. The whole plant will be available for the Germans in 1997.
Separation of the German plutonium began in 1989 and is scheduled to run through the decade.
In a series of articles beginning January 20, Liberation made much of the fact that"100 trucks loaded with plutonium will soon be crossing France from north-Normandy, where Cogema´s La Hague reprocessing plant is located - to south, which hosts the Cadarache and Melox MOX plants."
Cogema package deal will allow interim storage of German vitrified high-level reprocessing waste in France. The first HLW return shipment to Germany had been scheduled for early this year, but French media reported it will be postponed due to delays in licensing the Gorleben storage facility in Lower Saxony.