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Update on the vitrified wastes transport from France to Germany

CASTOR canister shipment

On Friday, November 5 at 2:20 PM CET, a haul of vitrified wastes left the Valognes rail terminal in France for transport to the Gorleben storage site in Germany.

The organizations that are disrupting these operations are fighting the wrong battle: one cannot fight climate change on the one hand while refusing nuclear power with the other!

The facts are clear: each year, electronuclear production allows for the reduction of 2 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions around the world. This train contains waste produced by nuclear fuel that provided CO2-free electricity for more than 24 million German citizens for a year.

Comparing the transport of this waste to Chernobyl, as Greenpeace has done, is outrageous and unfounded. Measures in place guarantee maximum security for the haul.
Nuclear safety is also ensured: the radioactivity of the waste is trapped in unbreakable glass, and the containers were designed to resist extreme shocks and accidents, such as from a high-speed train collision or a plane crash.

It also appears to be a paradox that the same individuals who denounce the transport as dangerous are also attempting to weaken the security measures in place through their actions and efforts to communicate information that impedes the proper operation of the transport.

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Why is France shipping vitrified waste to Germany?

To optimize the management of the nuclear fuel cycle, German utilities, like their counterparts in many other countries, adopted a recycling strategy during several years.

AREVA signed contracts to recycle the utilities’ used fuel.
The contracts cover the following services:

  • Delivery and storage of used fuel prior to treatment,
  • Extraction of uranium and plutonium for purposes of recycling,
  • Packaging of the various types of waste in a form allowing totally safe shipment and disposal.

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What are the characteristics of vitrified nuclear waste?

Vitrified waste is a combination of fission products mixed together in a glass matrix. This compact form contains 99% of the total radioactivity of the waste separated during the treatment process. Once nuclear fuel has been used to generate electricity for three or four years, it must be unloaded from the reactor.
This used fuel is a valuable source of energy-producing materials.

Used fuel treatment, a major phase in the used fuel recycling process, is an industrial activity designed: 

  • to recover reusable materials (95% uranium and 1% plutonium) from the used fuel;
  • to separate and package final waste for shipment and disposal (4% fission products).

Fission products from the nuclear chain reaction contained in the used fuel represent most of the radioactivity related to nuclear power generation. The fission products cannot be reused and are considered high-level waste. They are managed accordingly.

They are vitrified, i.e. melted in a borosilicate glass matrix, which immobilizes the waste permanently while packaging it in a form suitable for disposal.
The glass is stable, homogeneous and immutable over time. Its composition is similar to that of obsidian, a natural volcanic rock. Throughout the world, borosilicate glass is unanimously recognized as the most suitable and stable matrix for this type of waste.

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What is a vitrified waste canister?

Vitrified waste is poured at high temperature into a stainless steel canister. The canister's lid is welded after cooling. The surface of the canisters is verified to ensure that there is no contamination. The canisters are then transferred to air-cooled storage pits in a building at AREVA’s La Hague facility.

The glass canister (type CSD-V) is a stainless steel cylinder measuring 1.34 meters in height and 0.43 meter in diameter. Each canister holds 150 liters (400 kg) of solidified glass containing 14% fission products, corresponding to the treatment of approximately 1.7 metric ton of used fuel.

How many casks and canisters does this shipment include?

This twelvth shipment includes11 casks CASTOR®HAW28M which can hold up to 28 vitrified wastes canisters.

When is the shipment scheduled to arrive in Germany?

The casks are transported by rail from Valognes rail terminal train to the Dannenberg rail terminal in Germany (approximately 1,500 kilometers away).Dannenberg is located near the Gorleben storage site in Lower Saxony.

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Who carries out the transport of nuclear vitrified waste?

A German company, GNS, is charge of the management of vitrified waste for German power companies. For this shipment, GNS contracted with TN International, an AREVA subsidiary.

TN International has almost 50 years’ experience in the transport of nuclear materials. TN International has specific transport facilities and a subsidiary that is specialized in the road transportation. Its personnel are highly qualified.

Drivers are approved for the transportation of radioactive materials. They are familiar with emergency responses in the event of incidents or accidents, etc. and receive regular training.

Drivers receive basic training that is common to all hazardous substances, followed by a class 7 specialization in radioactive materials. This training is given out in France by an approved organization named INSTN (National Nuclear Science & Technology Institute)*.

Every 5 years, drivers have to follow upgrading training on the topics raised in their initial training as well as on operational feedback and regulatory changes.

*In accordance with the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR).

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What determines the choice of transportation mode?

This choice is made according to the material and volume to be transported, the mass of equipment and container, the facilities of the consignor and consignee of the material, the distances involved, time constraints and the decision of the material’s owner, etc.

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How is the safety of the shipment guaranteed?

TN International ensures the shipment of radioactive materials in accordance with the international regulations on nuclear safety and security published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and national regulations in force. These regulations are drawn up according to the material carried and the transport mode used.

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Safety is our Key Word:  in transportation as in all our other activities

World leader in the nuclear industry, AREVA puts its expertise and its vast experience at the service of its customers, electricity utilities, and of researchers by offering comprehensive solutions for the transport of nuclear material from preparation of the project to its delivery.  And all of this is done under the best safety and security conditions to ensure the protection of the material, of people and of the environment.

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How is this shipment secured?

Transportation of hazardous materials- transportation of radioactive materials as part of them - is conducted under the coordination of public authorities.

These requirements call for various degrees of confidentiality, governed by stringent regulations on safety, physical protection and control. The protection framework is adapted to each of the three categories of transported nuclear materials.

In France, the transport of nuclear materials is governed by the Defense Code. The senior official for defense and security (HFDS), overseen by the minister of the environment, sustainable development, transport and housing (MEDDTL), is in charge of the overall protective framework. The mechanisms of that framework are binding on all parties (public authorities, operators, carriers, etc.) involved in preparing and carrying out the shipment of nuclear materials.

The carrier has an approval issued by the relevant authority and is responsible for the physical protection of the transport in question.

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What authorizations are required prior to realize the shipment?

Prior authorizations are governed by the French decree of August 18th, 2010 on the protection and control of nuclear materials during transport, issued by the ministry of the environment, sustainable development, transport and housing. The approval application for national or international transport includes, among other items, details on the carrier, the transport resource and equipment used, the route and the materials carried.

The transport approval application must be made 30 days beforehand to the ministry via the transport supervision body (EOT) of the French Institute for radiological protection and nuclear safety (IRSN).

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How are your shipments regulated?

  • The French institute for radiological protection and nuclear safety (IRSN) examines the technical aspects of transport approval applications and gives an opinion on the safety measures set up. 
  • The IRSN’s transport supervision body (EOT) monitors shipments depending on their category, directly and in real time, on behalf of the senior official for defense and security (HFDS). 
  • The inter-ministry crisis management center (COGIC), under the authority of the Home Affairs ministry, has operating responsibility for the management and monitoring of radioactive material transportation.
    COGIC announces shipments to the relevant administrations 48 hours before they take place.
  • Moreover, TN International has resources that go beyond regulatory requirements in its operational monitoring center (COS).
    TN International has a geolocation system and controls all the parameters that ensures a shipment is carried out correctly. This system is based on the GPS and INMARSAT satellite networks.
    The data (positions, alarm reports, etc. ) is passed on to the COS. This monitoring helps to ensure routes and schedules are followed, identify any unplanned situation, give alerts and recommend actions.
    In addition, drivers are equipped with mobile phones and can be reached at all times during transport.

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What routes are taken?

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The shipment of nuclear vitrified waste from France to Germany is composed of four main stages:

  • Road shipment of the casks from La Hague plant to Valognes railway terminal
  • Transfer of the casks on adapted wagon at Valognes railway terminal
  • Shipment by train from Valognes to Dannenbeg railway terminal (around 1 500 km)
  • At Dannenberg terminal, casks are transferred on adapted trucks and shipped to Gorleben storage facility.

48 hours prior to transport, the inter-ministry crisis management center COGIC informs all relevant authorities, national security services and the relevant local security and emergency services.

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What resources are implemented in the event of an accident during a radioactive material shipment?

France has implemented a national crisis management framework for radioactive material transport.

Authorities call on local emergency response plans for radioactive material transport. Prefects are in charge of launching these contingency plans.

Furthermore, TN International has an internal emergency management plan called PUI-T. This plan covers the alert, situation analysis and on-site action phases following an incident or accident during radioactive material transport. It enables TN International to provide the relevant authorities with specialized personnel and specific equipment.

The entire framework is tested every year on a national scale with the main participants (including authorities).

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How do your casks protect the population and the environment from the radioactive materials they contain?

Our casks protect the public and people from radiation and contamination through tried and tested materials and technology. Each cask is suited to the material carried.

In the design phase, the casks undergo a series of regulatory tests to prove their resistance. Technologies, manufacturing processes and maintenance operations are all implemented in accordance with national and international regulations.

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What are the dose rates around the casks?

The casks used to carry radioactive materials protect people and the environment from the material they hold. They comply with the radioprotection thresholds defined in international regulations, i.e.:

  • 2 millisievert* per hour (mSv/h) in contact with the cask and the vehicle,
  • 0.1 mSv/h two meters from the vehicle.

These maximum values are checked at every transfer (change of transport mode). As vehicles carrying radioactive materials are by definition moving, the public’s exposure times are very short (from a few seconds to a few minutes) with no impact on their health. Prolonged stops are organized in guarded zones outside the public zone.

The people who work on cask handling and during the shipment receive appropriate training on radioprotection. A distinction is made between two types of personnel in the nuclear sector:

  • Workers whose annual dose limits are set at 20 mSv (i.e. 0.02 Sv) and 
  • Occasional workers for whom the annual limit is set at 6 mSv (i.e. 0.006 Sv).
  • For others, such as SNCF (French railway) personnel or security forces, the limit set for the public, 1 mSv per year is applied.

* Two main units are mostly used: the Gray (Gy), which measures the absorbed dose, and the Sievert (Sv), which corresponds to the Gray multiplied by a weighting factor specific to each radiation type and each organ. The Sievert takes into account the effect of radiation on a particular organ.

Some comparative data:

  • Average exposure due to France nuclear power plants: 0.01 mSv on average / year
  • Additional exposure caused by a Paris-New-York flight: 0.02 mSv
  • Additional exposure caused by a pelvis X-ray: 1 mSv average one-off dose per x -ray 
  • Exposure due to natural radioactivity in France: 1 - 2 mSv annual average 
  • Overall exposure (natural + artificial) of French population: 2 - 3 mSv annual average 
  • Overall natural exposure of global population: 2.4 m Sv annual average

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What are the main characteristics of the casks used for the shipment of nuclear vitrified waste?

The walls of the casks used to transport nuclear waste are more than 30 centimeters thick and provide effective radiological protection for the public and the environment.

This kind of cask has gone through all the regulatory tests that prove its resistance to accidengt, i.e.: 

  • 9-meter fall onto non-deformable surface, 
  • 1-meter fall into a spike, 
  • 800°C -30 minutes’ fire resistance and 
  • immersion to a depth of 200 meters.

Checks of the cask’s robustness under these tests must be validated by the relevant authorities. This validation results in an approval that allows the cask to be operated.

With respect to the use of a cask for international transport, every country it goes through validates the packaging design.

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What are the rules for communicating on transport of radioactive materials?

The release of information on radioactive material transportation comes under national and international regulations.

Communication by operators (press releases, information kit, etc.) on transport complies with those regulations. In addition, the customers and countries concerned have their own requirements.

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