(December 21, 1990) The head of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), Jean Teillac, has admitted that plutonium contamination at a former nuclear dump near Paris is more widespread than CEA had at first claimed.
(344.3443) WISE Amsterdam - Teillac also now admits that not all the traces of radioactivity found in the soil at the site could have come from the blocks of concrete which held 2500 containers of nuclear waste between 1961 and 1973. This was CEA's initial explanation for what it at first called "insignificant traces", when a newspaper, Le Parisien, and the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRII-RAD) revealed in October that they had found traces of plutonium in the dump at Saint-Aubin, 30 km southeast of Paris.
The containers were removed in 1973 after CEA scientists complained that the concrete blocks had begun to crack. The site was classified as "decontaminated" in 1979 and is now used to store waste from sewage farms.
After the initial revelations, French environment minister, Brice Lalonde, promised a new committee to control waste dumps. Meanwhile, the mayor of Saint-Aubin was trying to reassure local people by inviting them to take a Saturday morning walk on the site. Instead of reassurances, however, Saint-Aubin received more bad news after further tests with a dosimeter showed radioactive contamination over one hectare of the 7-hectare site, spreading from what was formerly the entrance to the dump. One suggestion, according to New Scientist in a December article, is that truckloads of radio-active waste were dumped from this entrance.
In mid-November scientists took new soil samples from the area in the presence of journalists. They are being analyzed by CEA and at independent laboratories. The dosimeter tests locate only gamma rays, but the laboratories will also test for the alpha particles which plutonium emits as it decays. The results should be available this month, but are unlikely to end a dispute between CEA and CRII-RAD as to the source and amount of contamination.
CEA says that any contamination that is not connected with the containers of waste probably comes from earlier dumping in the 1960s when outside firms were allowed to use the site. However, Francois Mosnier, the head of CRII-RAD's laboratory, reports finding traces of europium, a chemical element of the rare earth group, in samples taken from the site which go back only nine or ten years.
CRII-Rad also challenges CEA's claim that the plutonium levels are well below the 74,000 becquerels per kg permitted by regulations in force in 1966. CRII-RAD says that the 3300 bq found in a kg of soil at the site show that contamination is well above another official level, given in 1970, of 3700 bq for an entire site. The committee accuses the CEA of incompetence, saying, "Whether it never carried out tests for plutonium, or whether it did, but did not publish the results, the case is equally serious.
Source: New Scientist, 1 Dec. 1990, p.24.
Contact: CRII-RAD, 8, Rue Louise Gemard, 26200 Montelimar, France, tel: +33-75-513340.