Should this be seen as a bad signal for the underground radioactive waste storage project or, on the contrary, avenues intended to further improve the design of the site? The opinion of the Environmental Authority (AE) on the industrial geological storage center (Cigéo), published on January 18, revived criticism of this long contested issue. In Bure, in the Meuse, the most dangerous nuclear waste must be buried 500 meters deep, which will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
The Environmental Authority makes it clear from the outset: it does not issue a favorable or unfavorable opinion and does not comment on the advisability of Cigeo. On the other hand, its opinion aims to assess the quality of the environmental assessment carried out by the National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste (Andra) – which carries the project – and which appears in the public utility declaration request (DUP). submitted in August 2020 to the government. A file “Very detailed and didactic” and a “Uncommon magnitude” (3,000 pages and about twenty parts), underlines the AE.
Beyond this positive assessment, the AE regrets that “In general”, the consideration of environmental issues does not appear “Not always sufficient”. “Uncertainties” as to the impact of the project on Natura 2000 sites and on aquatic environments, questions about the chemical composition of the subsoil, need to “Check” the earthquake nature of the site and “Resume” geothermal potential studies, analysis “Limited” accidents that can take place in the underground laboratory… The 56-page document covers a wide variety of subjects.
Reversibility and clayey rock
Among these is one of the key points of the project: that of reversibility, that is to say the possibility of recovering buried waste. The law provides that it is possible to withdraw a container during the period of operation of the site, before its final closure after a century. But the opponents criticize a complex principle, hypothetical and which will only be exercised over a few generations.
In its opinion, the EA notes that reversibility is only foreseen during a relatively short phase in view of the long lifespan and the harmfulness of the radioactive waste. “Even during this period, uncertainties remain”, she adds. Andra assures us, however, that this issue is well taken into account. “Reversibility will be verified during the examination, by the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), of the Cigeo creation authorization application, explains Sébastien Crombez, director of safety and the environment at Andra. It will then be tested during the industrial pilot phase, during which tests can be carried out on the recovery of packages. “
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