Dismantling a Nuclear Power Plant in France: Brennilis

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

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