Cablegate: Nuclear Waste Storage/French R&D: Progress And

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 02 Paris 8289


1. The influential Parliamentary Office for the
Evaluation of Science and Technology Options (OPECST)
recently released a comprehensive scientific report on R&D
progress achieved in France in the area of high-level,
long-lived radioactive waste management (HLLLW). The
report's final recommendations will be turned into a bill
leading to a vote in Parliament in late 2006. The report
asserts the scientific feasibility of the three
technologies under investigation: separation and
transmutation, deep geological disposal, and long-term
interim storage. It concludes that all three
technologies, initially perceived as "competing," are in
fact "complementary" and should be included in the 2006
bill. The bill would also include a schedule for the
industrial implementation of each technology (2025-2040).
Finally, the authors of the report underscore that
significant R&D funding will be needed to demonstrate
industrial feasibility. End summary.

Background: A Very Orderly Approach
2. In 1991, France laid out a 15-year research program,
known as the "Bataille Law," to explore three options for
HLLLW disposal: 1) partition and transmutation of high-
level nuclear waste into low-level substances; 2)
geological storage (development of at least two
underground laboratories in different underground areas-
clay and granite); and 3) waste packaging and effects of
long-term surface or subsurface storage. By 2006, the
Parliament must decide which method(s) of disposal should
be implemented.

3. Earmarked money for research conducted between 1992
and 2003, mainly under the aegis of the Atomic energy
Commission (CEA) and the National Waste Management Agency
(ANDRA), equalled 2.2 billion euros, distributed among the
three technologies under scrutiny. Regular follow up has
been conducted by various committees, notably the OPECST
and the National Scientific Evaluation Committee (CNE), an
expert panel set up in 1994 to present to the GOF and
Parliament yearly critical assessments of HLLLW management

4. At the initiative of two parliamentarians, OPECST Vice-
President Claude Birraux and Christian Bataille (an
originator of the 1991 law), the OPECST held three days of
public hearings on radioactive waste management in January
and February 2005, each session corresponding to one of
the research paths stipulated in the Bataille law. These
hearings were preceded by private hearings with 250
scientists from 7 countries (Germany, Belgium, Finland,
Sweden, Switzerland, U.S., and France). The 340-page
report (in French) resulting from these meetings is
available on the OPECST website:
( The
conclusions of the report will be included in the draft
bill to be proposed by the GOF in early 2006 and debated
in Parliament in the second half of 2006.

Separation/Transmutation -- The "Ultimate Goal"
--------------------------------------------- --
5. Research on separation has been conducted since 1992
at the CEA ATALANTE facility in Marcoule (Gard) and in the
context of the European network ACTINET. The OPECST
report notes that CEA has explored separation feasibility
through aqueous processes but also investigated the
possibilities offered by pyro-chemistry, an approach
finding supported under the U.S. AFCI program (Advanced
Fuel cycle Initiative). It further notes that while the
industrialization of advanced separation will require
significant financial investment it would optimize
geological storage (reduction of contents) and reduce
costs of interim storage (volume/length of time).

6. Transmutation: The scientific feasibility of
transmutation has been demonstrated, according to the
report, principally through experiments conducted with the
fast breeder Phenix reactor. The shutdown of Phenix (2008-
2009) will affect transmutation research. To achieve
transmutation at an industrial scale, the OPECST report
underscores the need to develop fast neutron Generation IV
reactors and/or sub-critical reactors driven by
accelerators (Accelerator Driven Systems, or ADS) at the
horizon 2035-2040. The authors of the report emphasize in
this context the need for "intense" international
cooperation around the G IV program and express the view
that the development of a European ADS demonstrator is "an
objective worth further consideration."

Deep Geological Formation Disposal -- "Unavoidable"
--------------------------------------------- ------
7. Notwithstanding future progress in separation/
transmutation, nuclear development will still generate
ultimate radioactive waste. Furthermore, existing HLLLW
will not, for economic and technical reasons, benefit from
this technology. Consequently, MP Birraux and Bataille
consider that deep geological storage is "unavoidable."
Bataille and other French experts favor a "reversible"
repository, at least for a certain period of time (length
of time remaining to be specified) to leave the door open
to other modes of long-lived waste management if new
technologies emerge. The report acknowledges delays in
the construction of the underground research laboratory by
ANDRA at Bure (Meuse), but considers that these delays are
partly "compensated" by experience acquired in other
research sites, notably at Mol in Belgium and Mont Terri
in Switzerland. The OPECST report concludes that the
argillite formation tested by ANDRA at Bure "offers
favorable confinement capacities" and could be a good host
for a repository. Engineering studies indicate that
geological storage could be reversible for a long period
of time.

Long-term Packaging and Long-term Surface Storage: "A Safe
Interim Solution"
--------------------------------------------- -------------
8. The report highlights significant progress made in
waste packaging and long-term storage. Some research
results have already been integrated into industrial
processes and the volumes of high- and medium-level
activity waste have been reduced by a factor of ten since
1992. The goal for long-term storage is to develop
centennial interim storage (100-300 years, as compared to
50 years at present) by 2016.

OPECST Recommendations and Calendar: A Political Will
--------------------------------------------- --------
9. The authors of the report emphasize that not one
technology alone will provide an answer to HLLL waste
management and recommend that all three technologies be
included in the 2006 law. That is to say that Parliament
would incorporate in the text of the law three principles:
France sets separation/ transmutation as the ultimate goal
for radioactive waste management and has recourse to
reversible deep geologic disposal and long-term
(surface/subsurface) storage.

10. Planning for the next four decades: the authors of
the report propose to include in the new law the following
objectives and schedule for public authorities:
-- 2016: implementation of long term storage, preferably
on the site of an already existing nuclear facility;
-- 2016: authorization to build a reversible deep geologic
-- 2020-25: implementation of a demonstrator reactor for
-- 2025: implementation of geological storage;
-- 2040: implementation of industrial transmutation.

11. R&D Funding/Coordinating agency. While the report
provides no detailed cost estimate, it states that
significant amounts of R&D funding will be necessary to
reach industrial feasibility for each of the three waste
management paths defined in the law and to ensure HLLLW
industrial management in the long-term. To guarantee
appropriate funding, the OPECST report advocates the
creation of a dedicated fund, managed by the State and
backed by waste producers (the French Electricity Board
EDF, hospitals, etc.). The OPECST further recommends the
extension of ANDRA's responsibilities to include long-term
storage of all radioactive waste and non-reprocessed UOX
and MOX spent fuel.

Next on the agenda
12. 2006 deadline to be met? Although behind schedule,
the authors of the report consider that sufficient results
are or will be available for presentation to Parliament
within the timeframe stipulated by the French legislation
(i.e. late 2006). To prepare for the parliamentary vote
on the law, the Research Ministry has announced a
colloquium to take place in mid-2005. ANDRA will submit
in June 2005 a progress report of research conducted at
Bure, and the CNE will review research results during the
summer of 2005. The GOF will then issue a white paper and
organize a public debate (end of 2005/early 2006) and
release a draft bill to be voted in Parliament at the end
of 2006.

Press Reactions: Many Uncertainties/Long Way to Go
--------------------------------------------- -----
13. Several press commentators note the desire of the GOF
to "conclude" the nuclear waste issue before the 2007
presidential elections even though the necessary
scientific data to define waste management strategies may
not be available in time for the 2006 debate. They
underscore that industrial feasibility for
separation/transmutation will require new types of
reactors that exist only "on paper." Concerning deep
underground storage, some note that Bure will hardly be
operational in 2006 to provide concrete results and that
the second deep underground research lab in a granite
formation, also mentioned in the 1991 law (para 2), has
never been built. Comment: Altogether, in terms of
scientific assessment, the 2006 "deadline" is turning more
and more into an intermediate benchmark. From a more
political viewpoint, however, the decisions in principle
recommended by the OPECST, if followed by the GOF, express
a real determination to move forward France's waste
management strategy on the political agenda. End comment.

Waste inventory/Figures
14. Data available end-2002 (Source: ANDRA inventory,
OPECST report, Annex 1):
-- High-level long lived waste: 1639 m3; representing 0.2
percent of total volume (of radioactive waste) and 96
percent of total radioactivity; estimated annual
throughput: 110 m3.
-- Long-lived mean level: 45,359 m3; 4.6 percent of total
volume; 3.87 percent of total radioactivity; 600 m3.
-- Long-lived mean level: 44,559 m3; 4.5 percent of total
volume; 0.01 percent of total radioactivity.
-- Short-lived mean and low: 778,322 m3; 79.6 percent of
total volume; 0.07 percent of total radioactivity; annual
throughput: 28,000 m3.
-- Very low: 108,219 mm3; 11.1 percent of total volume;
percentage of total radioactivity: close to 0.

15. Comment: France, which produces 80 percent of its
electrical power via nuclear energy, sees only a nuclear
future for itself. The country has succeeded in obtaining
a high degree of public acceptance for its civilian
nuclear program. Part of the reason for this is the
attention the government and industry already give to the
back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The country has
heavily invested in reprocessing technologies and
facilities and is the world's leader in developing MOX
fuel from nuclear waste. Recently, Congressman Dave
Hobson (R.Oh.), Chairman of the House Energy and Water
Appropriations Committee, led a delegation of members and
staff to France to obtain a first-hand appraisal of the
French nuclear waste system. Hobson expressed
considerable interest in the French approach.

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