France: Continue support for deep radwaste disposal option

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 18, 1998) On December 9, the French government decided to proceed with the construction of two deep rock laboratories, one at a clay site at Bure in eastern France, the other at a granite site to be determined next year. Both will be assessed regarding their suitability for disposal of long-lived high-level radioactive waste, principally that from reprocessed spent fuel.

(504.4962) WISE Amsterdam - After having delayed the decision for nearly one year because of the strong opposition, the French government finally decided on underground waste laboratories to test the concept of deep burial. French President Lionel Jospin was reluctant to give the Greens additional ammunition in the runup of the European Parliament elections in June. Political sources in Paris said the lab decisions had to be taken now, and not closer to the election date.

The laboratories are intended to research behavior of high-level and long-lived (mainly transuranic) waste emplaced in two geologic formations: clay and granite. The location of the granite site is to be decided next year.
The clay formation site is located at Bure near Bar-le-Duc in the Meuse, east of France. L'ANDRA (Agence National pour la Gestion de Dechets Radioactifs, the national agency for radioactive waste management), justifies its choice for this site on the basis of two criteria: excellent geological condition and a political will reaffirmed since 1994 in favor of this laboratory. According to ANDRA, the geological studies at a depth between 410 and 530 meters have showed that the compactness (hardness) of the 2,000-square- meter clay bloc with a thickness of 120 meters does not show any risk of permeability. Moreover, the seismic risks are estimated by ANDRA to be zero.
The construction of the laboratory is to start in the autumn of next year and has to be finished by the end of 2002. It would employ between 100 and 350 persons. The boring of two shafts for entering the laboratory on the level of 445 meters' deep would be entrusted to one of the two already selected enterprises and would be done at the same time as the construction of surrounding buildings. This work would be followed by the construction of a network of corridors which will be adjusted for the research of the behavior of clay and the eventual perturbations.

Concerning the decision for the granite formation: the site of la Chapelle-Bâton in the Vienne department in the neighborhood of Poitiers, has been cancelled because geologists and safety authorities had doubts for long-term disposal. Beginning in 1999, there would be a search for a new susceptible granite site for the underground laboratory.

The minister of economy and industry, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, insisted on a concept with the possibility of retrieving the waste. The principal of retrievability is defended by the Greens and Minister of Environment Dominique Voynet. The research for this option takes into account the very optimistic vision of the possible scientific discovery in the future of how to reuse the waste.

Dominique Voynet, who favors surface storage, insisted that the laboratories will be constructed solely for the geological research, without any preparation for underground storage, as long as the Parliament has not decided to do so. The parliament is to make a decision in 2006 on the basis of the research that would then be started.

The laboratory issue is one of the most contentious in the nuclear field. Although intended for research, it is clear for antinuclear activists that a repository would be built at one of the lab sites sometime after 2006. Moreover, it is feared that this decision is an open door to further hasten waste storage, which would put future generations into danger. This decision also can work as a green light to continue the nuclear industry.
The local antinuclear organization Stop Civaux accused the proponents of giving high subsidies to possible storage sites to avoid hostile manifestations against the project and thus þbuyþ consent. Democracy has failed: the population is overwhelmed with campaigns of communication, not information.


  • Nucleonics Week, 3 December 1998
  • Reuters,
  • Republicain Lorrain,
  • Sortir du nucléare, all 3 from 10 December 1998

Contact: GSIEN, 2, rue François Villon, 91400 Orsay, France
Fax: +33-1-6014 3496

Related Item: The concept of retrievability

The concept of retrievability

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The French Groupement de Scientiques pour l'Information sur L'Energie Nucléaire (GSIEN) critized the concepts of regaining valuable material from the waste, the concept of regaining valuable material from the waste, which is one of the reasons for "reversibility". Radioactive waste cannot be retrievable for eternity from its underground disposal facitlity. It could be possible to intervene during the functioning period of the waste facility (50-70 years), based on the hope that the corridors, the packages, etc., would function according to plan. If taken into accound, the "eternal" lifetime of this waste, the eventual common loss of memory of the disposal location, and the lack of knowledge of the geological evolution, GSIEN concludes that the only disposal option should be surface or subsurface. GSIEN also notes that the retrievability principle is not more than a concept to get waste disposal accepted. The nuclear industry itself calls it confidence building.

La Gazette Nucléaire: November 1998- 169-170