France debates nuke waste facility (February 2013)

A public debate on whether to build a mammoth underground nuclear waste facility in northeastern France began this week amid praise and skepticism of the idea.

Published: Feb. 8, 2013 at 12:06 AM

BURE, France, Feb. 8 (UPI) — A public debate on whether to build a mammoth underground nuclear waste facility in northeastern France began this week amid praise and skepticism.

France’s National Commission for Public Debate launched the proceedings Wednesday as French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Delphine Batho visited the proposed site at the Meuse/Haute Marne Underground Research Laboratory in Bure, France.

Opponents contend the debate is rigged in favor of the building the $20 billion-$45 billion facility and, in any event, is premature because the country is debating whether France should transition from its dependence on nuclear power.

French President Francoise Hollande has pledged to reduce nuclear power’s 75 percent share of the energy mix to 50 percent by 2025.

But Batho said the safe disposal of the country’s nuclear waste is necessary no matter how that issue is decided.

“We must ensure its safe storage conditions, regardless of the evolution of our energy mix and the nuclear share that is now the subject of the national debate on energy transition,” she told the daily L’est Republicain.

The deep burial of nuclear waste was decided by a 2006 law after an earlier debate and during the past eight years research has been conducted at the underground lab to determine if it could be expanded to serve as a repository.

The debate launched Wednesday is a legally binding procedure expected to last four months, after which the agency charged with waste disposal is to begin the long process of securing planning permissions to construct the repository, known by the French acronym Cigeo.

The government hopes to break ground on the effort by 2019, with a commissioning in 2025.

The facility would be built in a 160 million-year-old layer of clay about 1,650 feet beneath the surface and designed to accept long-lived, high- and intermediate-level nuclear waste, whose lethality to human health extends over tens of thousands of years.

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