Returning the waste to Japan: the sooner the better

15 Feb 1995



The contracts for spent fuel to be reprocessed in France, exported by Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Belgium stipulate that the waste must be sent back to the country of origin by the 31st December 1995.
In December 1990, in the report on the management of HLW compiled by the Parliamentary Office of evaluation of scientific and technological options, Mr. Mandil, General Manager of Energy and Raw Materials at the Ministry of Industry said in response to a question posed by a Robin des Bois representative “The contracts state very clearly the return of the waste to the countries of origin : this means that the return is not dependent on the eventual setting up of an underground storage in these countries of origin. They must deal with the waste which should start to be returned in 1994”.

But in fact, in 1994, not Germany, nor Belgium, nor Holland, nor Switzerland saw the return of anything resembling nuclear waste. The Japanese authorities asserted that if a ship arrived from France with nuclear waste in 1994, “it would have to go round in circles in the water because our interim storage won’t be ready until the beginning of 1995.”

As for the terms foreseen by the French government, and confirmed by Mr. Syrota, Chairman of Cogéma, it is already one year behind schedule.

During the sixteen years that spent fuel has been subject to international transport, Cherbourg is the only point where actions of resistance and information have been developed between 1978 and 1984. The truth be told, the public and the environmentalists of Japan, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland have fallen consciously or unconsciously victim to the NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Back Yard). Rich and industrialised countries such as Germany and Japan must be responsible for their own waste, be it domestic, chemical or nuclear. As for Japan, the risks linked with returning the waste by sea are nothing compared to the chronic risks involved in the unlimited storage of HLW in an industrial site as complex as the La Hague plant with its 2000 workers, its contaminated zones, its internal discharges and its storage of chemicals, plutonium, spent fuel and fission by-products.

The “protests” against the sending back of the waste to Japan are laughable when for example they come from the Philippines who, since 1992, have been considering the conversion of old reactors from Soviet submarines into electricity plants ! (AFP Sciences, February 1992), or when they come from American specialists who in October 1994 were not perturbed by transatlantic sea travel (Europe – United States) of spent fuel on Danish coasters concealing military quality plutonium (source : Lloyd’s List, 5th October 1994).

La Hague is not sacrificial ground and its vocation is not to be this “international park of plutonium and nuclear waste” which certain political and military authorities dream about.

The return of nuclear waste to Japan and to South-East Asia in general permits those countries and their public to have a wide idea of what nuclear energy entails, and a precise idea of the noxious consequences of reprocessing spent fuel.

The reprocessing of spent fuel has for justification the extraction of plutonium and to spearhead fast-breeder reactors, but fast breeders all around the world fail – Super Phenix is again under repair. The future of La Hague plant is threatened. It is wise to take into consideration its decommissioning. The departure of waste generated by the reprocessing of foreign spent fuel constitutes the first stage of this decommissioning. If the waste does not start to be sent back in 1995, as stipulated in the contracts, and as the Law relative to the research into the management of waste requires (article 3 : “the storage in France of imported radioactive waste, even if the reprocessing was carried out on national territory, is forbidden beyond the time limits imposed by the reprocessing”), the association Robin des Bois will attack, before a court of competent jurisdiction, Cogéma and the French State and will ask for the suspension of all import contracts of spent fuel not conforming to the law.

The association Robin des Bois supports its Japanese counterparts. They are against the completion of the Rokkasho-Mura reprocessing plant in the district of Aomori in north Japan. The worst and most dangerous scenario would be if the Japanese government and its nuclear industry were in turn to sign contracts for the reprocessing of spent fuel with South-East Asian countries and with the Far East.





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