Radioactivity in ground water over seven times European safety limits
La Hague, Normandy, France May 23 2007 -- Radioactive waste from a storage facility in Normandy, France is leaking into groundwater and is being used by local farmers for their dairy cattle, according to a report published today by French laboratory ACRO (1). Water contamination from the CSM waste disposal facility migrates from the dumpsite into the underground aquifers used by farmers, where levels of radioactivity are on average 750 Bequerels per litre, over seven times the European safety limit of 100Bq/l. In agricultural land close to the dumpsite levels in the underground aquifer averaged 9000 Bq/l or 90 times above the safety limit during 2005.
Scientists from the ACRO lab, together with Greenpeace, have been conducting a survey of radioactive contamination leaking from the 'low and intermediate level nuclear waste disposal facility at la Hague (CSM). The disclosures come days after it was revealed that a new planned EdF (Electricite de France) reactor is unable to withstand a commercial aircraft impact. The nuclear waste contaminating the Normandy environment was produced by reactors operated by EdF and foreign customers of reprocessing company AREVA. Greenpeace is warning that the waste crisis in France is not being seriously addressed by the French Government as they seek to push through their new waste law. A two-day Senate debate and vote will take place at the end of the month (2).
"Because of its mismanagement, CSM is causing damage to the environment. Repeated incidents have led to a constant release, and as a consequence the ground water and many outlets are highly contaminated with tritium (3). We must note that for a long time there has been a lack of information regarding this chronic pollution, and even now a precise assessment of its impacts still needs to be done. As far as the future situation, it could worsen in the long run because there is no guarantee that the wrappings of the older wastes, which also contain more hazardous elements, will last for long periods of time," said Dr David Boiley, Director of ACRO.
Between 1967 and 1994 over 1.4 million containers, with a volume of 527,000 cubic meters of waste were dumped at the CSM in trenches and purpose built vaults. The largest volume of waste disposed of at the CSM was produced by EdF, which operates 58 nuclear reactors. EdF is currently seeking to build a new controversial reactor at Flammanville. Of the total waste in the CSM approximately 10% was from foreign nuclear power companies in Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland, and Sweden despite it being illegal under French law to dispose of foreign waste in France (4). The CSM dumpsite reached its capacity in 1994 and was closed. Thereafter large volumes of nuclear waste have been disposed of at France's new site in eastern France at Soulaine (Centre Stockage l'Aube, CSA). Despite having no license to discharge, this site has been releasing radioactivity into the atmosphere and underground water for ten years.
Tritium contamination is regarded by ANDRA (French Radioactive Waste Agency) as a good tracer for anticipating future contamination from other radionuclides in the dumpsite. This includes strontium, cesium and plutonium - direct cancer causing radionuclides.
"More than 30 years ago the French public were assured that selection of the CSM dumpsite was based upon extensive assessments of the geology and hydrology, and that there was no risk of contamination. In reality levels have reached thousands of times the natural background level. The nuclear industry in France - in common with the industry around the world - has no safe method for dealing with its nuclear waste. The last thing we need is more nuclear waste in France from yet another new reactor from EdF, " said Shaun Burnie Greenpeace nuclear campaigner.
In addition to the low and intermediate level waste dumpsites, the French Government is planning to develop an underground site for high-level waste in eastern France at Bure. The same assurances that were made for CSM on geology and hydrology are being issued about both Soulaine and Bure (5).
1 - ACRO was appointed by the French government to the CSM Commission responsible for surveillance and public information disclosure. It is also a member of the Government appointed GRNC (North Cotentin Radiological Goup) investigating health consequences from the nuclear facilities at la Hague. The ACRO report, 'Nuclear Waste Management: the lessons from the CSM Disposal Site (Centre Stockage de la Manche), May 23rd 2006, contains extensive analysis of the condition of the CSM site, and measurements of radioactivity on the la Hague peninsula - available at www.greenpeace.fr and www.stop-plutonium.org. In terms of the European safety limit the French Government as of December 20 2001 adopted the Directive 92/23/CE November 3rd 1998 regarding the quality of water destined for human consumption.
2 - The radioactive contamination largely consists of the tritium radionuclide, which is most hazardous when it becomes organically bound - specifically when it is taken internally by human or animal.
3 - The Senate debate on May 30th-31st follows a national assembly debate in April.
4 - The 1991 Law Bataille on nuclear waste, prohibits the storage and disposal of foreign waste in France. The current proposed law under debate in the Senate upholds this principle.
5 - The siting of CSM "required lots of geological and hydrological studies which led to the determination of the height of underground water in relation to the low level waste. The surface water is collected in a special basin with full monitoring. No trace of radioactivity other natural has ever been found." Monsieur Bardet, President of the InfrAtome (predecessor to waste agency ANDRA) La Vie Catholique, and Press de la Manche, July 12th 1972. When asked if anything could go wrong the public were assured "No, we have permanent monitoring."