A three-year impasse on spent fuel movement came to an end on 1 February when France and Germany agreed to resume the transport of vitrified high-level waste from La Hague to Gorleben and of used fuel elements from German nuclear power plants to La Hague.

Spent fuel transports were halted in 1998 when Germany refused to accept the return of high level waste resulting from the reprocessing of German spent fuel at Cogema’s La Hague reprocessing plant. In return Cogema refused to accept waste for reprocessing.

The following year German chancellor Gerhard Schröder threatened to end the reprocessing of German fuel entirely, saying it should be placed in permanent storage instead. However the German industry opposed the move, and this plus the likely scale of compensation to be paid to French organisations made him back down over the move.

Following the 1 February agreement between Schröder and French prime minister Lionel Jospin, it is likely that the first shipment of reprocessed fuel will be from France to Germany in March or April. Shipments are likely to continue at a rate of about two per year.

Meanwhile in the UK, BNFL has announced that a permit has been granted by the German government for BNFL to receive spent fuel for reprocessing. This is the first such permit that has been granted since the debacle over falsified MOX fuel data caused Germany to put dealings with BNFL on hold. BNFL expects to receive three flasks containing nine tonnnes of fuel from the Neckar plant for reprocessing.