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Cablegate: French Government Quietly Prepares for 2006 Nuclear Waste

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: Paris 2727



1. With little fanfare, French authorities are advancing France's
waste management strategy on the political agenda. On schedule, on
June 30 the National Waste Management Agency (ANDRA) and the Atomic
Energy Commission (CEA) submitted to the GOF a progress report on R&D
in their respective fields: deep geological repositories for ANDRA;
partitioning and transmutation, packaging and long term storage for
CEA. Also in June 2005, the National Scientific Evaluation Committee
(CNE) released a summary report on the three options explored by France
for high-level long-lived waste (HLLLW) disposal. In early July,
France's Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) released on the ASN website for
public consultation a preliminary version of the National Plan for
Radioactive Waste Management and Recoverable Materials (NPRWM-RM).
This plan will reportedly be appended to the radioactive waste
management bill presented to Parliament in 2006, thus giving it a much
larger scope than initially envisaged. All reports are supportive of
deep geological disposal. End summary.

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Background information

2. In 1991, France laid out a 15-year research program, known as the
"Bataille Law," to explore three options ("lines") for HLLLW disposal:
line 1 - partition and transmutation of high-level nuclear waste into
low-level substances; line 2 - geological storage (development of at
least two underground laboratories in different underground areas-clay
and granite); and line 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. In March 2005, the influential Parliamentary Office for the
Evaluation of Science and Technology Options (OPECST) released a
comprehensive scientific report on R&D progress achieved in France in
the area of HLLLW (reftel). The OPECST report affirmed the validity
and complementarity of the three directions for research defined in the
1991 law. Its conclusions were notably based on preliminary results
provided by ANDRA and CEA officials. ANDRA and CEA submitted a
synthesis report to the Industry and Research Ministers on June 30.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Reporting on Fourteen Years of Scientific Progress: Four
Reports in a Row
--------------------------------------------- -----------


4. The ANDRA report on the feasibility of a repository for HLLLW in a
deep geological formation (line 2 of the law) includes two parts:
-- A feasibility-assessment report on clay formations, based notably on
the work conducted on the site of the Meuse/Haute Marne Underground
Laboratory (known as Bure), and in foreign research laboratories (see: 266.pdf; in French); and

-- a report on the advantages of storage in granite formations based on
research conducted by ANDRA in partnership with foreign laboratories D05G_267.pdf; in French).
Note: The selection process of a granite candidate site in France was
never completed for political reasons (election cycle/strong local
opposition to deep underground storage).

5. The ANDRA report emphasizes the "excellent confinement properties
of the argillite (clays)" and confirms the suitability of the Bure site
for repository development. ANDRA also details techniques developed to
prevent the degradation of the waste packages in the long term and
ensure reversibility of the disposal over 300 years.

-- CEA REPORT: "A Whole Combination of Solutions"
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. The CEA report focuses on lines 1 and 3 of the law. Concerning
research undertaken under line 1 of the law, the CEA underscores the
"remarkable progress" made in the development of processes permitting
the separation of minor actinides and certain fission products. It also
states that the feasibility of americium transmutation has been
established, notably in fast neutron reactors. (Note: Americium is the
greatest contributor to radio toxicity after plutonium.)

7. According to CEA officials, important knowledge has also been
acquired in the field of long-term behavior of radioactive materials
and their containment (line 3 of the law), which will be useful for
both geological and surface storage. Scientific work has already led
to the reduction by one-third of the production of radioactive waste at
the COGEMA La Hague facility and has made it possible to reduce the
volume of long-lived intermediate level wastes (LLILW) by a factor of
10. While different packaging types have been investigated, CEA
researchers claim that vitrification is the most reliable and are
confident that vitrified waste packages could resist decomposition
during several hundred thousand years. As for long-term storage,
technical solutions have been developed which demonstrate the
possibility of placing the waste (spent fuel) in surface or subsurface
storage installations for a period of 300 years, with the possibility
to retrieve the waste, for treatment or final geological storage, at
any time.

8. Comment: Difference of views between CEA and parliamentarians: The
CEA concludes its report by raising the possibility of geological
storage not only for HLLLW but also for LLILW (e.g. cladding hulls, end
caps, waste from effluent treatment) and which, according to CEA,
cannot be stored subsurface. The authors of the OPECST report,
Parliamentarians Birraux and Bataille, had proposed long-term storage
for LLILW. Following the release of the CEA report in June, Birraux
and Bataille insisted that the 1991 law refers (ONLY) to waste with the
double specificity - long-life AND high activity (which excludes
intermediate activity waste). Note: HLLLW currently represents 1700 m3
of vitrified waste -- 110 m3 produced annually. Including LLILW in
geological storage would increase drastically the volume of waste to
store (46,000 m3 at the present time). End note. The question is far
from being solved: CNE officials (see para 10) testified in Parliament
on June 29, also expressed their view that LLILW should be stored in
geological disposal. End comment.

9. The CEA report (in French only) can be consulted on the following
websites: /Synthese.pdf /fiche_cea_Axe1.pdf /fiche_cea_Axe3.pdf.


10. Also in June 2005 the CNE, the national panel overseeing French
research waste management, released its eleventh evaluation concerning
France's R&D on radioactive waste management. The CNE evaluation,
based on preliminary reports by the two agencies, provides a summary
of all the results achieved so far on lines 1, 2, and 3 of the 1991
law. The detailed report, also including a summary and conclusions in
English, can be consulted on the following website:
http://lesrapports.ladocumentationfrancaise.f r/BRP/054000461/0000.pdf.)

11. CNE conclusions: Line 1/partitioning: The CNE confirms its
previous assessment that French research has been innovative and that
significant scientific progress has been made. It notes, however, that
(CEA) work on demonstrating advanced partitioning technical feasibility
is late according to the schedule contained in the 1991 law and that
only partial results will be available at the end of 2005. The CNE
concludes that advanced partitioning experiments should be continued
after 2006 to gradually reach a demonstration of industrial-like

12. Line 1/Transmutation: A "hope." Transmutation still has a long
way to go since the research now depends on equipment which is only at
the concept stage, whether as part of the generation IV reactor systems
or Accelerator Driven Systems (ADS). CNE officials further add that
"in 2006 there will be no decisive argument permitting scientific,
technical, and industrial decisions on transmutation but only hopes in
relation to these different concepts."

13. Line 2/Deep geological disposal: The CNE notes that "the
advancement of line 2 research is well above the one in line 1." It
confirms its previous favorable assessment on research conducted on the
Bure site: "the confinement qualities of the (...) argillite (clays)
are supported by the last observations in situ, in the laboratory, and
by the results obtained on the core samples taken in the geological
layers at the Bure site. The results of the first experiments and
measurements in the laboratory will be available end 2005 as planned."
14. Line 3/Waste conditioning: The CNE considers that "research in
line 3 that leads to the development of primary industrial waste
packages has taken this technology to maturity.... The short or long
term behaviors of waste and spent fuel packages in various situations
has been reasonably well established.... However, it is necessary to
continue the research to consolidate certain results, particularly on
the resistance of some glass materials and on the confinement
possibilities offered by ceramics, in order to possess a wide selection
of conditioning means to confine long-lived radionucleides on the long

15. Line 3/Long-term storage of primary waste packages: "Research
conducted within line 3 of the law is not completed, except for the
industrial storage of present reprocessing waste. The current programs
on storage and disposal containers must be continued. In order to go
further than generic studies on long-term storage facilities, it would
be suitable to select a potential storage site." The CNE further
emphasizes the burden of this type of storage upon future generations.

-- ASN REPORT: Working Towards More Integrated Approach and Social
--------------------------------------------- ----------

16. Giving larger scope to the 2006 legislation: The debate on waste
management will not be limited to HLLLW. For two years, the Nuclear
Safety Authority (ASN) has been working on other types of radioactive
waste whose levels are much lower but volumes much more significant
(see reftel and para 21). The resulting document, the National Plan
for Radioactive Waste Management and Recoverable Materials (NPRWM-RM),
is a comprehensive summary of existing data and expertise in the field,
and discusses a large range of issues related to waste management
responsibility, funding, inventory problems, and the "necessary
information" for the public. The objective of the NPRWM-RM is to
ensure the coherence of the French waste management scheme, whatever
the nature of the radioactive waste and its producer, to look for
management solutions for each category of waste, also taking into
account the concerns of the public. The last part of the report
includes a series of recommendations that are likely to become part of
the draft bill. (The ASN released on July 13 a preliminary version of
NPRWM-RM for public consultation and comments on the ASN website
( pdf.)

Agenda Confirmed

17. At the request of the Industry and Research Ministries, the ANDRA
and CEA reports will now be officially assessed by CNE and ASN, and
reviewed by a panel of international experts under the aegis of the
Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development. CNE will publish a global assessment report in January
2006 before the completion of the draft bill and its discussion in
Parliament (first semester 2006). Prior to the parliamentary
discussion, the GOF also confirmed the launch of a public debate
(modalities unknown) for this fall.


18. Avoiding the 'NIMEY' ('Not in My Election Year') phenomenon: 2006
will be an important year for radioactive waste management in France.
Fifteen years after the Bataille law, and even though Research Minister
Francois Goulard and Industry Minister Francois Loos both acknowledge
the need for "another ten years of research in the area," stakeholders
and politicians across the political board feel the need to legislate
on the issue well before the beginning of the 2007 presidential
campaign. The shared opinion is that the parliamentary debate should
not be postponed until 2008, and not take place in 2007 to avoid being
"hijacked" by political parties in the context of the elections.

19. According to EST contacts, it is unlikely that Parliament will
explicitly give a green light to the construction of a repository at
Bure in 2006. However, considering ASN and CNE support, the Parliament
could well give an agreement "in principle" to a geological disposal
solution. While the Industry Minister recently emphasized that no
"administrative decision" would be taken in 2006, he nevertheless
indirectly confirmed the OPECST proposed calendar, i.e. possible
authorization to create a (reversible) deep geologic repository by 2015
and implementation of geological storage by 2025.

French Waste: Statistics

20. At end 2002, according to ANDRA (2004 Activity Report released
June 2005) the total volume of waste present in France and placed under
French supervision amounted to 929,000 m3, broken down as follows:

High level waste: 0.2 percent
Intermediary level/long lived: 4.6 percent
Low level/long lived: 4.6 percent
Very low level: 11.1 percent
Low or intermediary level/short lived: 79.5 percent

Origins of radioactive waste in 2020 (in volume):

Nuclear power: 68.7 percent
Research: 17.8 percent
Defense: 10.6 percent
Non-nuclear power industry: 2.9 percent


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