CIGEO - Public debate

The national debate on the planned CIGEO underground repository in France's Lorraine region, organised in 2013 by the national radioactive waste management agency (Agence nationale pour la gestion des déchets radioactifs - ANDRA), took place despite opposition by protesters, who forced the cancellation of the launch meeting, scheduled to be held in Bure 23 May 2013.

The purpose of the public debate was to discuss ANDRA's project to build a geological waste repository (centre industriel de stockage géologique - CIGEO) for radioactive waste. This repository would be built 500 m underground, in a layer of clay in the Paris Basin. If approved by parliament, it would begin operating in 2025.

Following the public debate, on 6 May 2014, Andra published its intended course of action regarding the CIGEO project.

After considering the opinions and expectations expressed during the public debate and continuing the staged approach initiated by the Act of 1991, ANDRA decided to pursue the Cigeo project subject to the following four modifications, while refining its proposal on reversibility and making commitments for the future:

1. Include an industrial pilot phase when the facility begins operating,

2. Introduce a master plan for the repository's operation, to be developed after consulting stakeholders and periodically reviewed throughout the facility's lifetime,

3. Adjust the calendar to feature a construction license application prepared in two stages: a preliminary file in 2015 followed by a final application in 2017, with a view to obtaining a government license by 2020,

4. Greater involvement by civil society in ANDRA's activities.

ANDRA has made three commitments that will shape future project development: guarantee disposal facility safety, which must remain an absolute priority; preserve and develop the host community in close cooperation with local actors; and control disposal costs without compromising safety and security.

In addition to these four changes, ANDRA has produced more detailed proposals regarding reversibility, centred on a phased approach. Reversible disposal will allow future generations to decide the fate of the repository and, specifically, make it possible to retrieve the waste packages during the repository's approximately hundred-year operating life, in the event that such a move is deemed desirable.

A progressive, phased approach is necessary due to the long time scale. The first waste packages placed in the repository will be high- and intermediate-level waste packages produced until now in La Hague, after a long period of interim storage to allow them to cool. However, techniques are likely to change in the light of future research in areas such as separation, transmutation and conditioning. The waste packages bound for deep geological disposal in a generation or two will no doubt not be the same as current packages, and will benefit from advances achieved by engineers and scientists.

A twist in the tale - On 5 January 2015, six anti-nuclear associations sued ANDRA (at the tribunal de grande instance in Nanterre), requesting a "symbolic" condemnation for "misconduct" and "falsehood". The lawsuit claimed that ANDRA was untruthful regarding the geothermal potential of the ground under the site in Bure, which its studies identified as average but the plaintiff associations declared to be exceptional. Could the Heavenly Authorities or Mother Nature have mischievously seen fit to place a geothermal source right next to the site chosen by the engineers and geologists?

The peaceful layers of sedimentary rock that make up the Paris Basin are uniform in nature, with no underground hot spots suitable for heating water in Bure! The probability of such a geothermal source is practically non-existent and its economic value would in any case be limited: 20 km of pipes would be required in order to carry the heat energy to the nearest small town, Toul. Furthermore, geothermal resources are distributed rather than concentrated. It would therefore be possible to extract the heat from a neighbouring location.

This lawsuit is a cause for concern: do we really need to involve the courts when debating matters of geology? On march 26th 2015, the Tribunal de grande instance de Nanterre rejected the lawsuit and the requested compensations.

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