You are here

Greenpeace: Shipped MOX fuel produced illegally

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#515
13/08/1999
Article

(August 13, 1999) On July 21 a first shipment of MOX fuel left the harbours of Cherbourg (France) and Barrow-In-Furness (UK) heading to Japan. It is the first shipment of contracts signed with Japanese utilities TEPCO and Kansai. Meanwhile, Greenpeace is claiming the MOX fuel production facility in Belgium is operating illegaly.

(515.5062) WISE Amsterdam - On July 13 Greenpeace charged that a French MOX fuel production facility located in Dessel (Mol), Belgium is operating in violation of Belgian law. Greenpeace filed legal papers with the Belgian Supreme Court to request nullification of the operating license, and called on the new Belgium Government to immediately shut the Franco Belge de Fabrication de Combustible (FBFC) International "5M" plant, which has been operated since 1997. FBFC is wholly owned by Cogema and Framatome. The specific charges are that the operators, FBFC, constructed a new plutonium fuel assembly plant, in "manifest violation" of Article's 12 of Belgium law (Royal Decree), and a misuse of Article 13. These articles, which regulate the construction of `new' facilities, required that FBFC conduct a public enquiry prior to constructing the plutonium fuel assembly plant. Only for minor modifications, the public inquiry can be cancelled. The completely new MOX facility of 1000 m2 can hardly be classified as a minor modification. FBFC has not only not conducted such an enquiry but they have brazenly operated their plant for some two years in violation of the Belgian law.

"5M' is the final assembly plant for plutonium MOX fuel rods. At the plant, fuel rods supplied from a nearby facility operated by Belgonucleaire, and the Cadarache plant in the south of France, are bundled together into fabricated MOX fuel assemblies for Belgian, German, Japanese, and Swiss nuclear reactors.

In 1995 a contract was signed between the Toshiba Corp. of Japan and COMMOX, a cooperation between Cogema and Belgonucleaire, for the production of plutonium MOX for the Japanese utility Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO. The Toshiba Corp. was the subcontractor for TEPCO, with COMMOX being the consortium representing Belgonucleaire. Fuel assembly fabrication was subcontracted to FBFC. The plutonium for the MOX fuel will come from Japan's stockpile of plutonium at the La Hague reprocessing plant.

"This French owned company [FBFC] has clearly violated Belgian law," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International. "They have deliberately sought to deny the Belgian people the right to be consulted on a nuclear facility which poses significant risks to the environment, public health and the cause of nuclear non-proliferation. We believe that this was a dirty deal done by the then Belgian government and the French nuclear industry, led by Cogema and we demand that the new Belgian government should immediately shut this illegal plant down," said Burnie.
In 1993, Greenpeace and others challenged Belgonucleaire's plans for the construction of a new MOX plant, the so-called P1. This facility was intented to increase MOX production to 70 tons each year. Citing that there had been inadequate public consultation before the construction license was granted, the organisations charged that the facility could not be built under the license granted by the government. After more than five years, the Belgium Supreme Court finally ruled in late 1998 that construction could not take place under the license. Belgonucleaire did not attemp to obtain a new license, and the P1 has not been built.

The new charges call into question the current, first-time shipment of MOX fuel which has been shipped to France and is currently transported to Japan from the French port of Cherbourg. The transport with the Pacific Teal left Cherbourg on July 21, on board 32 MOX fuel assembliess, containing an estimated 221 kg plutonium. The Pacific Teal is sailing for the Japanese port of Fukushima together with the Pacific Pintail which left the British port of Barrow-in-Furness with 8 MOX fuel assemblies containing 225 kg Pu, produced by BNFL for Kansai Electric Power Co. The transports are very controversial. Many countries en route raise concern about safety matters. Greenpeace bank accounts were blocked for several days by BNFL after Greenpeace protested the transports.

Meanwhile in Japan two reactors have been licensed to use MOX fuel: it is expected the Fukushima reactor will start loading MOX in October, the KEPCO utility will begin loading MOX in the fourth unit of the Takahama nuclear plant in November.

Sources:

Contact: Greenpeace International, Shaun Burnie, Keizersgracht 176, 1016 DW Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Tel: +31-20-626 1877: Fax: +31-20-622 1272