You are here

Cogema operation fails to recover radioactive waste off coast

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 2, 1998) In the summer of 1997, Cogema scraped out the interior of its 5-km long discharge pipe at its La Hague reprocessing plant. It was only after Greenpeace pressure in September 1997 that Cogema announced that it had "accidentally" dumped the 500 kgs of highly radioactive waste onto the ocean floor and neglected to tell the French safety authorities.

(501.4942) WISE Amsterdam - After the Cogema announcement, the French ministers of the environment and of health instructed Cogema to carry out a cleanup operation.
Now the French plutonium company Cogema has publicized it plans to dredge the sea bed around its La Hague reprocessing plant. The Director of the la Hague plant, Michel Pouilloux, has admitted that the 100-million francs (US$17 million) operation would not even recover all of the dangerous radioactive waste dumped on the sea bed as part of Cogema's pipe "cleaning" operations.
The plans were denounced by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations. Late September, Michel Pouilloux told a meeting of the local Public Information Commission that Cogema "will not be able to recover all of the particles". He sought to blunt criticism by saying that an underwater wall had been installed in order to prevent the illegally dumped radioactive sediment from washing away.

Immediately following the commission meeting, a team of Greenpeace divers inspected the so-called "wall of sand bags" and found that it was no more than a layer of haphazardly placed sand bags that have been left on the sea-floor for a number of months in order to mark the dredging area.
Greenpeace has dismissed as "absurd" Pouilloux's claim that the wall of sand bags would prevent further radioactive particles from being swept away by the area's fierce currents.
"This is yet another hollow publicity statement deployed to mislead people into believing that Cogema has the situation under control," said Mike Townsley of Greenpeace. "The estimated 500 kg of radioactive scrape which was pushed onto the sea floor by Cogema in August of 1997 is only the tip of the radioactive iceberg," added Townsley.

If the French government is serious about forcing this state-controlled company to clean up its act, then it must demand an end to all radioactive discharges, and not just a limited and flawed proposal to dredge the small area of sea bed in the immediate vicinity of the discharge pipe, added Townsley.

While welcoming the admission that a cleanup operation is necessary, Greenpeace has demanded that no further work take place until a full Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposal is carried out.
Greenpeace's view is backed by the former chairman of the British government's Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, Professor Sir John Knill, who, in a note to the environmental advisor to the states of Jersey, said that "an Environmental Impact Assessment is an essential prerequisite for such an operation". He further warned that "cleanup of a sea floor by dredging can release and distribute contamination". He added: "There is also the problem of handling water in the dredger. If this is discharged after draining from the solids (as is normal), it will re-introduce contamination into the sea water. The water should be taken back to the operational base and processed to remove radioactivity."

Source: Greenpeace press release, 29 September 1998
Contact: Greenpeace France, 21 rue Godot de Mauroy, 75009 Paris France.
Tel: +33-1-5343 8585; Fax: +33-1-4266 5604