22 Jan (NucNet): Deadlines for the retrieval and packaging of legacy radioactive waste at Areva’s La Hague reprocessing facility in northern France have slipped, with the country’s regulator issuing a new decision to compel Areva to guarantee compliance.
The French nuclear safety authority ASN (Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire) said in a statement that the waste, which has “significant nuclear safety and radiation protection implications”, results from the activities of a spent fuel reprocessing plant known as UP2-400 between 1966 and 1998.
The waste is currently stored in the La Hague facility in conditions that require retrieval and repackaging, ASN said.
Because of its physicochemical and radiological nature, and the current storage conditions, retrieval and packaging operations for the waste must carried out according to a rigid timetable.
ASN said Areva undertook to retrieve and package the waste, but there had been “successive delays”, despite the nuclear safety and radiation protection implications. “These delays… lead to the continued storage of legacy waste in unsatisfactory conditions of safety,” ASN said.
The waste retrieval and packaging operations must be carried out proactively according to a precise calendar, for which the completion date has been set at 2030.
ASN has now issued a supplementary decision compelling Areva to prioritise the various projects according to their potential nuclear safety and radiation protection implications.
The decision calls for the short-term improvement of the safety of the current stores of legacy waste, pending their emptying. It says ASN requirements concerning waste retrieval and packaging must be met and “steps to be taken by the licensee” to guarantee compliance with deadlines.
The UP2-400 reprocessing plant was the first one built at La Hague. It was replaced by the UP2-800 and UP3-A plants, which were commissioned in the late 1980s. The radioactive waste from UP2-400 consists of fission products, metallic structures from used fuel elements and process residuals such as solvents or ion exchange resins.
According to Areva, La Hague, about 25km west of Cherbourg, provides the first stage in the recycling of used fuel taken from nuclear reactors. Areva said the facility employs more than 6,000 people and is “the leading industrial centre of its kind”.
The facility can process used fuel from 80 to 100 nuclear reactors a year, amounting to 1,700 tonnes.