La Hague site
The La Hague site is a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at La Hague on the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France. Operated by Areva NC, formerly COGEMA (Compagnie générale des matières atomiques), La Hague has nearly half of the world's light water reactor spent nuclear fuel reprocessing capacity. It has been in operation since 1976, and has a capacity of about 1700 tonnes per year. It extracts plutonium which is then recycled into MOX fuel at the Marcoule site.
It has treated spent nuclear fuel from France, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. It processed 1100 tonnes in 2005. The non-recyclable part of the radioactive waste is eventually sent back to the user nation. Prior to 2015, more than 32,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel has been reprocessed, with 70% of that from France, 17% from Germany and 9% from Japan.
The La Hague site was built after the Marcoule site originally for producing plutonium for military purposes. In 1969 the French military had a sufficient supply of plutonium for weapons and as such, had no use for the reprocessing centre any more. After that point, the factory directed its efforts toward civil operations, and with the reduction of 350 people from the plant's workforce, its military connections ended.
In the late 1990s, the facility was criticized by Greenpeace who drew attention to its radioactive emissions to the atmosphere and marine environment.
Controversy surrounding radioactive releases
Greenpeace has been campaigning since 1997 for the shutdown of the site, which they claim dumps "one million litres of liquid radioactive waste per day" into the ocean; "the equivalent of 50 nuclear waste barrels", claiming the radiation affects local beaches. Although official figures are to the contrary. Greenpeace have also protested by creating roadblocks and chaining themselves to vehicles transporting materials to and from the site. However the leader of Greenpeace France, Yannick Rousselet, has since stated that they have ceased attempting to criticize the reprocessing plant on technical grounds, having succeeded at performing the process without serious spills that have been frequent at other such facilities around the world. In the past, the antinuclear movement argued that COGEMA would not succeed with reprocessing. Eric Blanc, deputy director of the processing plant, says that although the plant does intentionally release radioactive material, the annual dose in the vicinity of the facility is less than 20 microsieverts per year, which is equivalent to the dose of solar radiation received during a single transatlantic flight, and therefore within regulation. The AREVA NC website emphasizes that they are committed to keeping the dose below 30 microsieverts per year.
Releases of radioactive emissions to the air also occur at the facility, and have been challenged by Greenpeace. They described the levels of Carbon-14 and Krypton-85 detected in air 700 metres distant from the plant's chimneys as "frightening", with Greenpeace France's nuclear expert Jean-Luc Thierry describing "an activity of 90,000 becquerels (Bq) per cubic metre." Thierry also noted that typical atmospheric background levels elsewhere sit between 1 and 2 becquerels (Bq) per cubic metre. The plant managers responded by saying that their air emissions were within authorized limits.
- Sellafield, a similar facility in the United Kingdom
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