Bonn halts spent fuel transports

30 June 1998

Following the discovery of contamination of containers used to transport spent fuel to La Hague and Sellafield, incidents of which had been known for a decade, the Federal Minister of Environment & Nuclear Safety (the BMU), Angela Merkel, has ordered that all such operations be stopped.

The contamination was discovered on containers and railway carriages at Cogema’s terminal at Valognes. While Cogema’s German clients were informed, it appears that in most cases this information was not reported to the BMU authorities in Germany because there was no danger to the workers and no formal requirement to report this type of incident.

The revelations caused a tremendous stir throughout the country and angered both Merkel, who has been a strong supporter of the industry, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, particularly as federal elections take place later this year.

As an immediate reaction, Merkel announced a 10 point programme designed to improve the reporting and management of the transport by the operators and authorities. GRS is also to investigate the incidents to discover the actual causes.

Measurements revealed that the container surfaces were contaminated with spots of activity sometimes thousands of times the regulatory level of 4 Bq/cm2, although still not regarded a danger to health. No leaks have been found in the actual fuel casks. The contamination most likely occurring during the loading operations at the power stations (eg water from fuel ponds).

In France, slight contamination of containers carrying spent fuel from EDF stations was discovered and restrictions placed on transports while transfer operations at all the plants are checked.

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