Radioactive waste leaking into Champagne Water Supply

Levels set to rise warns Greenpeace

Press release - 30 May, 2006
Greenpeace today revealed that France's iconic sparkling wine, Champagne, is threatened by radioactive contamination leaking from a nuclear waste dumpsite in the region. Low levels of radioactivity have already been found in underground water less than 10 km from the famous Champagne vineyards.

Greenpeace activists deliver radioactive contaminated water bottles to the French Senate in Paris. The water was collected last week from the well situated against the site wall of the nuclear waste storage site in La Hague, France.Greenpeace reveals that France's iconic sparkling wine, Champagne, is threatened by radioactive contamination leaking from the nuclear waste dumpsite in the region.

Problems at the dumpsite, including water migration leading to fissures in the storage cells have been reported to French nuclear safety agency in recent weeks (1). Greenpeace has written to the Comita des Producteur de Champagne to warn them that their production risks contamination, as experienced by dairy farmers in la Hague, Normandy.

The waste dump, Centre Stockage l'Aube (CSA) in Soulaine eastern France, contains mostly waste from Electricite de France (EdF) and AREVA, but also includes foreign nuclear waste disposed of illegally under French law (2). Every week nuclear waste is trucked across France to the Champagne site. Once full, the dumpsite will be one of the world's largest with over 1 million cubic meters of waste, including plutonium and other radionuclides.

ANDRA, the national nuclear waste agency operating the site, stated that it would not release any radioactivity into the environment when given permission for the dumpsite in the late 1980's. Greenpeace research released last week showed levels of radioactivity leaking from another dumpsite run by ANDRA in Normandy were up to 90 times above European safety limits in underground water used by farmers, and that the contamination was spreading into the countryside (3). The Champagne site will receive a total of 4 thousand terabequerels of tritium; more than three times the amount of tritium waste as the dumpsite in Normandy.

"We have been told for decades that nuclear dumpsites will not leak and that the best standards are being applied. In reality the dumpsite in Normandy is a disaster, and radioactivity is already leaking from the dumpsite in Champagne," said Shaun Burnie nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace International. "The authorities know they have a problem in Champagne already, with mistakes in the design. This is only the beginning of the problem, the bigger picture is that France has a nuclear waste crisis out of control that is threatening not only the environment and public health but also the economy of the Champagne region."

In addition to the problems with the waste stores at the site, Greenpeace has learnt recently that French nuclear safety agency DGSNR has written to AREVA seeking clarification of the type of waste being disposed of at the Champagne site (4).

In addition to the low and intermediate waste site, a new high-level waste dumpsite is being planned in Bure also in the Champagne region, in which the most radioactive material in France would be deposited. Plans to build a high level waste facility in the Rhone Valley were scrapped a few years ago after strong opposition by the wine producers due to the threat to their vines and wine production.

"The Champagne producers are facing two nuclear timebombs - one already leaking at Soulaine, and one planned at Bure. The wine producers in the Rhone region stood up to the nuclear state in France and won. The Champagne region needs to act fast before it's too late," said Fred Marillier of Greenpeace France. "The French Government must stop this madness. The new facility must not accept any more waste, and an immediate investigation launched into how to stop further contamination of ground water."

Despite having a nuclear waste crisis EdF is seeking approval to build a new reactor at Flamanville, which will increase the amount of high-level waste. Today EdFs nuclear reactors produce 1,200 tonnes of highly radioactive waste every year. The waste expected from the new reactor would be the most hazardous waste ever produced in a French nuclear power reactor (5).

The French Senate will debate later today and vote tomorrow on the future disposal of nuclear waste in France.

Other contacts: Shaun Burnie - Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner- +31 629 00 11 33Fred Marillier - Greenpeace France nuclear campaigner- +3367389 5504Thomas Breuer - Greenpeace Germany nuclear campaigner- + 49 171 878 0820 Mhairi Dunlop, Greenpeace International Communications-+44 7801 212 960

VVPR info: Photos available from +31 653 819 255Video available from +31 646 166 309Greenpeace factsheet on the French waste problems available at: www.greenpeace.fr.org and www.stop-plutonium.org

Notes: 1 - DGSNR statement, Paris, May 24th, 2006, "On April 22nd, 2005, ANDRA informed the French nuclear safety authority DGSNR that the wall of a storage cell fissured while concrete was added on the last layer of wastes stored in the CSA disposal site. The origin of the fissure was a "water corner" phenomenon resulting from the hydrostatic pressure of a water column formed with the infiltration and which could lead to the breaking of the wall. The DGSNR have admitted that this "water corner" phenomenon was under-evaluated during the conception of some cells. The nuclear safety Authority demanded that all these cells be from now on conceived to resist the most severe "water corner" phenomenon. Regarding the cells already built, the setting of a surrounding waterproof joint at each concrete layer will prevent this phenomenon from happening. This event revealed a flaw in the conception of the storage cells of the site." Full copy available at in French and English at www.greenpeace.fr.org and www.stop-plutonium.org2 - The la Hague waste dumpsite, CSM, contains an estimated 140,000 containers of foreign waste. The Champagne waste dump, CSA, waste containers each week directly from throughout France. An estimated 20% of the waste is from reprocessing company AREVA. During the 1990's 50% AREVA reprocessing business was with foreign utilities, including EoN, RWE, (Germany); Electrabel (Belgium); NOK (Switzerland); EPZ (the Netherlands); and Tokyo Electric, Kansai Electric (Japan), Waste from these companies is being disposed of at the Champagne site. In the future following present procedures, waste belonging to Australian government nuclear agency, ANSTO, will also be disposed of at the site.3 - The ACRO report, 'Nuclear Waste Management: the lessons from the CSM Disposal Site (Centre Stockage de la Manche), May 23 2006, contains extensive analysis of the condition of the CSM site, and measurements of radioactivity on the la Hague peninsula. 4 - DGSNR sent a letter to the Director of the la Hague reprocessing site on May 15th 2006, with a demand that issues related to quality control of waste forms being disposed of at the Champagne site be resolved within 2 months. See, The Division Officer, Olivier Terneaud Director of the COGEMA site of La Hague, titles "Checking of the basic nuclear sites. Inspection nb INS-2006-ARELHF-0020 on April 27th, 2006. Wastes - Quality insurance of the nuclear waste parcels" available in French and English at Greenpeace websites listed above.5 - It is planned that the EPR will operate at very high burn up - the fuel remains in the reactor longer - and up to 50% of the fuel will be plutonium mixed oxide - MOX, this increases both the heat and radiation levels significantly. The so-called public enquiry on the construction of the reactor is due to begin on June 15th - lasting only 6 weeks.