Orano signs contracts for return of German waste

20 August 2021

France's Orano said it has signed contracts with German utilities EnBW, PreussenElektra, RWE and Vattenfall for the return of all the German nuclear waste remaining at its La Hague reprocessing plant. The entry into force of the contracts - worth in total more than EUR1 billion (USD1.2 billion) - is subject to the formal agreement of the German and French governments.

The La Hague site in northern France (Image: Orano)

Between 1977 and 1991, contracts for the treatment of used fuel were signed with the four German utilities. These contracts resulted in the recycling of fuel elements from German nuclear reactors and in the conditioning of the residual waste. Under the contracts, 5310 metric tonnes of fuel were processed at the La Hague plant.

The recycling of German used nuclear fuel at La Hague was completed in 2008. The inter-governmental agreement governing those operations included a provision that the equivalent in mass and radioactivity of the waste contained in the used fuel elements must be returned to Germany, with shipments of high-level radioactive waste (HLW) to be completed by 2011 and the return of long-lived intermediate-level waste (ILW) no later than 2024. In accordance with the commitments made by the two parties, HLW - representing more than 99% of the imported activity - was shipped to Germany between 1996 and 2011. However, long-lived ILW remains to be returned.

"These [new] contracts allow for the settlement in full of all past commitments made in relation to the German utility companies' nuclear waste," Orano said.

"After consultation between the German utilities and Orano, with the agreement of the German and French authorities, the balance in radioactivity and mass equivalent will be returned in the form of high-activity vitrified waste and used packages by 2024," it added.

"Based on the signature of these contracts, and the operational and management elements planned for the second half of the year, Orano is therefore revising upwards its financial outlook for 2021."

Inter-governmental negotiations

In a 17 June statement, France's Energy Transition Ministry said France was negotiating with Germany to speed up the return of radioactive waste from the processing of German used fuel at La Hague.

"The negotiations carried out made it possible to identify a new technical solution which would allow the return, within the allotted time, of waste representing long-term radiotoxicity for humans and a mass-equivalent to those initially envisaged," the ministry said. "The long-lived intermediate-level waste packages that had to be returned to Germany would be replaced by high-level waste packages and very-low-level waste, the number and composition of which would aim to ensure the neutrality of the operation with regard to the protection of human health, safety and the environment. This solution would in particular make it possible to greatly facilitate the transport of waste back to Germany."

The ministry noted that Germany had confirmed on 10 June the possibility of mobilising the German Nuclear Waste Management Fund (Fonds zur Finanzierung der Kerntechnischen Entsorgung, KENFO) to allow the financing of this solution. The fund is intended to secure funding for the interim and final storage of radioactive waste that arises from the commercial use of nuclear energy to generate electricity in Germany. KENFO manages a portfolio of approximately EUR24.1 billion, which was paid in by the operators of the nuclear power plants in Germany.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News