ASN Imposes New Requirements for the CSM Waste Site

March 3, 2010

February 15, J.-L. Lachaume of the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) wrote to the director of Andra, the nuclear waste authority, in regard the maintenance of  La Manche Storage Center (CSM) for essentially short-lived waste of “low”- and intermediate-level radioactivity.  The Permanent Group of Waste Experts had examined various reports that Andra had submitted in 2009 as required by the decree of 2003 authorizing the first phase of surveillance at the site. One of the reports was on the advisability of installing a more durable cover over the waste.  As a result of the experts’ report, ASN is imposing various requirements on Andra that are a reminder of the difficulties of safeguarding radioactive waste over the long term.

The experts found that the behavior of the CSM conforms in general with Andra’s forecasts.  However, the behavior is complex and needs interpretation based on numerous observations, supported by modeling  The current surveillance system must be continued and the modeling increased.  The next annual surveillance reports must evaluate the rate of infiltration through the geomembrane now over the waste.  Within two years Andra must present an interpretation of the evolution of levels of tritium in the drainage network, in the water under the center, and in the streams to the north-west of the center and integrate them into the existing hydrogeologic model.  In its next revision of the site’s safety report, Andra must specify how water from the site will be handled, if the facilities now used for this purpose become unavailable or disappear because of the dismantling of Areva’s La Hague establishment.  (Water contaminated at the storage site is now released into the ocean or into a stream by Areva.)

As to the cover, Andra plans to make gradual changes.  It intends to reinforce the embankment at the site and then, over fifty years, reduce the steepness of the slope and install a mineral (inorganic) cover over the existing cover.  ASN states that additional information is necessary to determine whether Andra’s plans are feasible and that within five years Andra must submit a report, which includes proof that the stability of the embankment can be maintained if the drainage equipment becomes degraded or if there is an earthquake.  It also must include the evolution of the storage site in the very long term, taking into account the different possibilities for the land around the storage site, -in particular for those occupied by Areva-La Hague after that establishment is dismantled.

Andra must in addition evaluate and improve its archives pertaining to the site.

In other words, the CSM is not ready to go from the “very active surveillance” phase to the “active surveillance phase.”

–Mary Byrd Davis

Copyright © 2010 by EcoPerspectives

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Compensation for French Nuclear Test Victims: Undermining of the Law

February 21, 2010

The first French nuclear test took place in Algeria February 13, 1960.  Some fifty years later France  passed a law to recognize and compensate the victims of French nuclear testing.  The Morin Law was published in the Journal Officiel January 5, 2010.

Now a draft decree implementing the law have been drawn up and has been sent to the  Conseil d’Etat for approval.  Organizations representing civilian and military victims of the testing charge that the decree as written would emasculate the law.  “ One feels that the decree has been drawn up in such a way as to block any escape from the ‘mathematical’ logic that would lead to the exclusion of the majority of the victims from the compensation system,” Me. Jean-Paul Teissonnière, lawyer for the Polynesian Association Moruroa e tatou” says.

The decree draws narrowly-determined geographic lines that will be used to decide whether an alleged victim was in a location that was subject to radiation.  To be eligible for compensation claimants  must suffer from one or more of eighteen types of cancer, although the United States recognizes thirty-four types of cancer as radiation induced and the Japanese in a law of June 2009 list all cancers and pathologies of the thyroid.

Whether or not an individual applyicant is eligible will also be subject to a mathematical formula drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency and based on the dose of irradiation, the time since the irradiation, and other human factors.  The formula is intended to apply to a group, not to individuals and its use for individuals is not justified, according to cancer expert Claude Parmentier.

“What [the state] had to give with one hand, it is trying to take back with the other,” an editorial in Damoclès, the periodical of the Observatoire d’armements/CDRPC, remarks.  The organization published, February 10, the first volume of a “Rapport sur les essais nucléaires français (1960-1966),” classified as “confidential, defense.”  The report has caused a stir in the French press, in particular because it states that French military personnel were sent into radioactive zones shortly after two of the tests to learn how the soldiers would react to intense radiation.

In late February the Algerian government is hosting a colloquium on the tests, which includes a visit to a test site.  French journalists are invited. Therefore, will presumably be heard on the subject.  The decree implementing the compensation law is expected to be published in March.

Readers can obtain access to French copies of the law, the decree, the confidential report, and a statement by Moruroa e tatou through the web site www.obsarm.org .

–Mary Byrd Davis

copyright© 2010 by EcoPerspectives

Plans for a second French EPR move forward

February 14, 2010

A public debate on construction of a European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) at Penly (Seine Maritime) will open March 22.  Two 1330 MW pressurized water reactors are already in operation at the site, which is located on the English Channel.  Penly 3 would be the second French EPR.  The first is under construction at Flammanville.

The debate will be organized by the National Commission on Public Debates (CNDP).  For four months, discussions, in which the public is invited to participate, will be held across the country.  Then the CNDP will have two months to present its report on the debate to the National Assembly; and the construction manager will have three months, to the end of January 2011 to reply.  If the results of the debate, in particular the conclusions in the report of the CNDP, are favorable to construction of the reactor, a public inquiry into the proposed plant will begin.

In the past Electricité de France (EDF) has been the only construction manager and operator of French nuclear reactors.  However, at Penly, GDF-Suez, thwarted in its attempt to become sole owner and operator, is anxious to participate as an operator beside EDF.  Its hope is that, by such participation, it can  gain recognition from the nuclear safety authority (ASN) that will pave the way for its becoming the sole operator of one or more future French reactors.

GDF-Suez was formed in 2008 from the merger of Suez and Gaz de France, privatized to permit the merger.  An independent company, it is active in many countries and with various types of energy.  It owns and operates seven nuclear reactors in Belgium under the name Electrabel as well as plays a role in other aspects of the nuclear industry.

At Penly 3, GDF-Suez will be a minority owner (25%) of the proprietary company .  EDF will own 50%; ENEL, EON, and Total will also have shares.  GDF-Suez is trying to persuade the public authorities to name the company, rather than EDF, the operator.  In this case, EDF-Suez can be regarded as an operator alongside EDF.  The CGT, a powerful labor union, however, wants EDF to remain the only nuclear reactor operator in France.

Knowing the roles of the companies that will participate in a Penly 3 would facilitate the public debate on the reactor.  Therefore the state may shortly clarify the relationship of EDF and GDF-Suez there.

Sources:  Articles on Penly Les Echos, 27 January and 10 February 2010

–Mary Byrd Davis

Copyright© 2010 by EcoPerspectives

EDF and Areva Reach Reprocessing Agreement

February 8, 2010

Areva and EDF announced February 5 that they had reached an agreement on transportation, treatment, and reprocessing of irradiated fuel.  Starting in 2010 EDF will increase from 850 to 1050 tons of heavy metal per year the amount of irradiated fuel that it sends to La Hague for reprocessing and from 100 to 120 tons per year the amount of MOX fuel that it has manufactured at Melox.  The quantities are actually those announced when a framework agreement on reprocessing was reached by the two parties at the end of 2008 [Nuclear Fuel, 29 Dec.08].  Areva and EDF promised to  sign a contract before the end of the first quarter of this year.  The two companies are working as hard as they can to rapidly reach an agreement in regard to Eurodif’s enrichment of uranium for EDF, they said.  Prime Minister François Fillon had given them a deadline of two weeks from a January 20 meeting to resolve their differences.

–Mary Byrd Davis

Copyright©2010 by EcoPerspectives

Dismantling a Nuclear Power Plant in France: Brennilis

February 7, 2010

Although Brennilis (Monts d’Arrée, EL4) in Brittany is far from being a typical French nuclear power plant, EDF hoped to make its dismantling a showcase for its technology. Unfortunately for EDF, the operation has been on hold since 2007.

The reactor, a heavy-water plant with a nominal capacity of only 70 MW electric, stopped  operating in 1985.  It had been jointly managed by EDF and the CEA, but in 1999 EDF became the only operator.  Dismantling began in 1996 after authorization for partial dismantling had been granted.  Plans changed, and an authorization for complete dismantling was delivered in February 2006.

However, in June 2007 the Conseil d’Etat, acting on a request from the safe-energy organization Sortir du Nucléaire, annulled the decree authorizing complete dismantlement, on the basis that the environmental impact statement in regard to that action was not released to the public before the authorization was granted.   Dismantling came to a halt, with only the reactor block, the heat exchangers, and various nuclear waste remaining in place at the site.

A public inquiry on a new authorization for complete dismantling was held at the end of 2009.  A few days before it closed, Sortir du Nucléaire wrote (in French) to Mme Faysse, President of the Public Inquiry Commission on the Dismantling, to ask that she recommend in her report to the ministers concerned, that a decision on completing the dismantling of Brennilis not be made until a national public debate on the dismantling of nuclear installations has been held. The organization pointed out that the national Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and the Local Information Commission (CLI) look with favor on such a debate, which would be a formal process organized by the national agency responsible for public debates.

The CLI had asked the scientific organization Acro to make recommendations on the file submitted by EDF to the Brennilis inquiry,  Acro’s report (in French) states that continuing the dismantling is the safest way of proceeding, but points out lacks and discrepancies in EDF’s dossier.  For example, no measurements of the alpha releases in gaseous effluents are given.  Alpha releases, Acro states, should be accounted for and reported even if they are small.  Another point involves metallic waste contaminated with short-lived cobalt 60 and long-lived nickel 63 and classified by EDF as short-lived.  Cobalt 60 now dominates in this waste, but after several decades of storage, nickel 63 will be one hundred times more prevalent than cobalt 60.  Can the metal then go to a site for short-lived waste?  This problem needs to be addressed, the authors say, because with an increasing number of reactors to be dismantled, the question of nickel 63 will recur.

Americans who are clamoring for more nuclear reactors should give thought to the process of dismantling them, a problem not yet solved in France.

–Mary Byrd Davis

Copyright© 2010 by EcoPerspectives

Should the U.S.–or France–Reprocess? cont.

January 31, 2010

Reprocessing in France costs more than direct disposal of irradiated fuel.  According to the Charpin report (2000) commissioned by the French prime minister, the use of reprocessing instead of direct disposal across the entire French fleet would result in an increase in back end costs of 85%.  As a matter of fact, EDF has been storing rather than reprocessing most of its MOX fuel and a portion of its standard uranium fuel. Approximately 12,000 tons of irradiated fuel belonging to EDF are stored at La Hague and at reactor sites.

Reprocessing splits irradiated fuel into various categories of nuclear waste, complicating disposal but not reducing either the total radioactivity to be disposed of or the heat load.  According to Andra, the radioactive waste agency, La Hague had produced the following solid waste as of the end of 2007:  high activity: 1650 m3;  intermediate activity–long lived: 19,171 m3; low activity-long lived: 4,952 m3; low and intermediate activity-short lived: 156, 213 m3; very low activity: 17,113 m3.  The volume would be larger if Areva trapped and packaged all the gaseous and liquid radioactive streams that it should capture.  When La Hague is decommissioned, the volume of waste, particularly low activity and very low level activity, will skyrocket.

Not counted as waste by Andra are the plutonium and uranium retrieved from the irradiated fuel by reprocessing.  EDF uses a small portion of the separated uranium, after re-enrichment in Russia, in fuel for two reactors.  However, at the end of 2007 France had in storage 21,180 tons of reprocessed uranium.  This reprocessed uranium contains isotopes, which make it particularly difficult to handle.  A greater portion of the separated plutonium is used in MOX fuel for some twenty reactors.  Nevertheless, at the end of 2007, 60 tons of separated plutonium, 29 of them separated from EDF’s fuel, were in storage in France, Andra reports.

The high level waste will go into a repository deep underground– when the repository has been constructed.   Areva does not yet know how to recover and treat some of the waste produced in the past at La Hague; and the destination of very low activity waste is in question, given the passage of a decree allowing release of such waste into the public domain.

Should the United States really emulate France?

An excellent critique of the French industry, including reprocessing, can be found in “Nuclear Power in France” by Mycle Schneider in International Perspectives on Energy Policy and the Role of Nuclear Power (Multi Science Publishing Co., 2009), which, along with Andra’s 2009 Inventory, is a source for this blog.

–Mary Byrd Davis

Copyright © by EcoPerspectives 2010

Should the U.S.–or France–Reprocess?

January 29, 2010

President Obama in the second paragraph of his memorandum on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, states that the U.S. approach “ to managing materials derived from nuclear activities, including nuclear fuel and nuclear waste, has not proven effective.  Fortunately, over the past two decades scientists and engineers in our country and abroad have learned a great deal about effective strategies for managing nuclear material,” and his administration is committed to using them.  Lurking behind the paragraph is the word “reprocessing.”  Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth, in forwarding the memo, exclaimed, “Did Areva write this?!”  In fact, Areva, always hungry for business, put out a press release commending President Obama on his support for nuclear energy in his State of the Union message.

It seems therefore fitting to ask what Areva and France have to offer the United States in regard to nuclear waste.  Not much, if one looks at the situation in France.  Areva issued its financial statement for 2009 this week.  The only portion of its business that did less well in 2009 than in 2008, was Back End (waste treatment, including reprocessing). Turnover was up overall 5.4% excluding Transmission and Distribution, which Areva is in the process of selling.  Back End reported a decrease from 2008 of 3.3% or 3.7% in fixed euro.  Revenue for the Back End was 1.65 billion euro, less than half that of each of the three other branches, Front End, Reactors and Services, and Transmission and Distribution.

The combined capacity of the two reprocessing plants at La Hague is 1700 metric tons heavy metal per year.  In 2008 it reprocessed 937 tons and in 2009, 929 tons.  Without the business of EDF, Areva could not keep the plant operating. It has no large foreign contracts and none are in sight for the future.  Meanwhile, EDF, which finds the cost of reprocessing as compared to direct disposal a burden, is embroiled in a conflict with Areva as to how much fuel it will reprocess and at what price.

Is this success?

We shall continue this subject tomorrow

–Mary Byrd Davis

Copyright ©2010 by EcoPerspectives

Areva in Transition

January 29, 2010

Areva announced January 28 an increase in turnover of 8.5 billion euros in 2009, up 5.4% over 2008 excluding its transmission and distribution business, which it is in the process of selling.  It also announced  a change in its organization.  Henceforward, until the sale of Transmission and Distribution closes, Areva will have six rather than four separate branches, because it is splitting Mining off from Front End, and Renewables from Reactors and Services.  The branches will therefore be Mining, Front End (enrichment and fuel fabrication), Reactors and Services, Back End (treatment of waste including reprocessing), Renewables, and Transmission and Distribution.

Les Echos reported January 27 that Areva is in conversation with GDF Suez about entering into a strategic (not a financial) partnership.  The companies would work together in a number of areas including development of Atmea1, a 1100 MW reactor.  The company Atmea, which is creating the reactor, is a joint venture of Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.  The EPR is 1650 MW, two large for some of the countries interested in constructing nuclear reactors.  Meanwhile, Areva is talking to Mitsubishi, Qatar, and Kuwait about their investing capital in Areva.

Neverthless, Areva’s future is uncertain.  In an article by Frédéric de Monicault, Le Figaro reported (January 28) that François Rouselly, former CEO of EDF, who has been asked by President Nicolas Sarkozy to draw up a report on the future of the French nuclear industry will (not surprisingly given his background and the tension between EDF and Areva) recommend that Areva be split into two companies:  reactors and fuel cycle.  Cogéma (fuel cycle) and Framatome (reactors) were combined to form Areva in 2001.  Rouselly reportedly does not believe that Areva is capable of leading the French nuclear industry.

–Mary Byrd Davis

Copyright ©2010 by EcoPerspectives

Construction Cost of Current French Reactor Fleet

January 22, 2010

Energy analyst Charles Komanoff has calculated that the real cost per kilowatt hour to construct 58 French nuclear plants, adjusted to a set year’s dollars, rose 60% (1.6 times) between 1971 when the program began and 1999 when it concluded.  Komanoff bases his study on data in a report from the year 2000 commissioned by French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.  The report was rediscovered by a researcher at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, who, as the result of a cursory study of the figures, concluded that French power plant costs more than tripled. He shared the data with Komanoff, who reanalyzed it using linear regression analysis.

The fifty-eight French plants covered by the study are all pressurized water reactors of the design developed by Westinghouse Corporation.  They fall into three classes based on size:  900, 1300, and 1500 MW, with the smallest class built first and the largest last.  The three standardized designs allowed for economies in construction costs. 

Russell Lowes of Safe Energy Analyst, who assisted in editing Komanoff’s report,  notes its significance in relation to plans to build reactors in the United States.  “Even with a socialistic system where the government owns the grid, owns the nuclear companies, and has had only three reactor types, and launched groups of reactors in a concerted way, the real cost of building reactors still went up 60%. . . . Here in the U.S. we already have more reactor options than their three options, and U.S. utilities haven’t even ordered their first reactor vessel (hopefully they never will), opening the market up to even more designs.”   

Komanoff is the author of the influential 1981 study of the cost of U.S. plants, Power Plant Cost Escalation. His new study, Cost Escalation in France’s Nuclear Reactors: A Statistical Examination is available at

http://www.komanoff.net/nuclear_power/Cost_Escalation_in_France%27s_Nuclear_Reactors.pdf

–Mary Byrd Davis

Copyright © 2010 by EcoPerspectives

Areva and EDF Given a Deadline

January 20, 2010

                The services of Prime Minister Fillon issued a communiqué after Anne Lauvergeon of Areva and Henri  Proglio of EDF met with Fillon the afternoon of 20 January.  Lauvergeon and Proglio refused to comment to the press on the meeting.  The minister of the economy, Christine Lagarde, and the minister of the environment, Jean-Louis Borloo, were present but apparently did not comment either.  According to the communiqué,  widely reported in the media, Fillon reminded Areva and EDF of the role of the state in the French nuclear industry.  (The state is the majority owner of both Areva and EDF.)  Lauvergeon stated that the removal of irradiated fuel from EDF’s power plants had recommenced.  Areva and EDF agreed to work out, within the next two weeks, the principles on which they will cooperate on reprocessing.  In the same two weeks they also are to define the conditions under which EDF will obtain enriched uranium from Tricastin. 

                In regard to reprocessing we should add that Areva is dependent on EDF for the continuation of reprocessing at La Hague.  As of the end of 2008, fuel containing 9179 metric tons of heavy metal awaited reprocessing.  Ninety-nine percent of this fuel belonged to EDF.  No substantial foreign reprocessing contracts are in sight.

                                –Mary Byrd Davis