MAC: Mines and Communities

Normandy Aquifer Seven Times More Radioactive Than French Limit

Published by MAC on 2006-05-29

Normandy Aquifer Seven Times More Radioactive Than French Limit

PARIS, France, ENS

29th May 2006

Radioactive tritium from a nuclear waste storage facility in Normandy, France is leaking into groundwater that is being used by local farmers for their dairy cattle, according to a new report published by the French laboratory ACRO.

Contamination from the low and intermediate level nuclear waste disposal facility at la Hague, the Centre Stockage de la Manche (CSM), migrates from the dumpsite into the underground aquifers used by farmers, the Hérouville St Clair-based laboratory found.

"Because of its mismanagement, CSM is causing damage to the environment," said ACRO Director Dr. David Boiley. "Repeated incidents have led to a constant release, and as a consequence the ground water and many outlets are highly contaminated with tritium."

Tritium contamination is regarded by the French Radioactive Waste Agency as a good tracer for anticipating future contamination from other radionuclides in the dumpsite. These include strontium, cesium and plutonium, all cancer causing radionuclides.

ACRO was appointed by the French government to the CSM Commission, a body responsible for surveillance and public information disclosure. The lab is also a member of the government appointed North Cotentin Radiological Goup investigating health consequences from the nuclear facilities at la Hague.

The ACRO report, "Nuclear Waste Management: the lessons from the CSM Disposal Site (Centre Stockage de la Manche), May 23, 2006," contains extensive analysis of the condition of the CSM site, and measurements of radioactivity on the la Hague peninsula.

Located on the western tip of the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy, the Areva NC La Hague site reprocesses spent nuclear power reactor fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium.

ACRO found that levels of radioactivity in the aquifer are on average 750 Bequerels per liter (Bq/l), - more than seven times the legal European safety limit of 100 Bq/l. In agricultural land close to the dumpsite, ACRO tests found levels in the underground aquifer during 2005 averaged 9000 Bq/l - 90 times above the safety limit.

"We must note that for a long time there has been a lack of information regarding this chronic pollution, and even now a precise assessment of its impacts still needs to be done," Boiley said.

"As far as the future situation," he warned, "it could worsen in the long run because there is no guarantee that the wrappings of the older wastes, which also contain more hazardous elements, will last for long periods of time. When a new contamination is detected it will be too late."

Scientists from the ACRO lab, together with Greenpeace, have been conducting a survey of radioactive contamination leaking from the nuclear waste disposal facility at la Hague.

"More than 30 years ago the French public were assured that selection of the CSM dumpsite was based upon extensive assessments of the geology and hydrology, and that there was no risk of contamination," said Shaun Burnie Greenpeace nuclear campaigner.

"In reality," he said, "levels have reached thousands of times the natural background level."

The nuclear waste contaminating the aquifer in Normandy was produced by reactors operated by Electricite de France (EdF) and foreign customers of Areva, the French state owned nuclear industrial conglomerate.

Through its three branches, Areva covers the entire nuclear power cycle. Areva NP, formerly Framatome ANP, develops and builds nuclear reactors. Areva NC, formerly Cogema, deals in the nuclear fuel cycle from uranium mining, conversion and enrichment through spent fuel reprocessing and recycling. Areva T&D handles power transmission and distribution.

Between 1967 and 1994 over 1.4 million containers, with a volume of 527,000 cubic meters of waste, were dumped at the CSM in trenches and purpose built vaults. The largest volume of waste disposed of at the CSM was produced by EdF, which operates 58 nuclear reactors.

In its report ACRO says the inventory of the wastes at CSM "is not precisely known," but the laboratory is able to identify 100 kilograms of plutonium, "as well as many other alpha emitting elements particularly toxic in case of contamination."

In addition, there are chemical toxics which will not disappear with time, including almost 20 tons of lead and one ton of mercury, ACRO reports.

Of the total waste in the CSM approximately 10 percent was from foreign nuclear power companies in Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland, and Sweden, despite the fact that it is illegal under French law to dispose of foreign waste in France.

The CSM dumpsite reached its capacity in 1994 and was closed. Thereafter, large volumes of nuclear waste have been disposed of at France's new site in eastern France at Soulaine, Centre Stockage l'Aube (CSA).

The 1991 Law Bataille on nuclear waste, prohibits the storage and disposal of foreign waste in France. The current proposed law under debate in France's Senate upholds this principle.

Still, Greenpeace is warning that the waste crisis in France is not being seriously addressed by the French government in its proposed waste law.

A two day Senate debate and vote on the law will take place on May 30 and 31 - it follows a National Assembly debate in April.

"The nuclear industry in France - in common with the industry around the world - has no safe method for dealing with its nuclear waste," said Burnie.

In addition to its low and intermediate level waste dumpsites, the French government is planning to develop an underground site for high-level radioactive waste in eastern France at Bure.

Meanwhile, French high-level waste is temporarily stored at the Areva NC La Hague plant.

Greenpeace warns that the same assurances that were made for CSM on geology and hydrology now are being issued about both Soulaine and Bure.

The report, "Nuclear Waste Management: the lessons from the CSM Disposal Site," is found at:

Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info