Application lodged for construction of French repository

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French radioactive waste management agency Andra has applied for a construction licence (DAC) for the planned Centre Industriel de Stockage Géologique (Cigéo) deep geological disposal facility for high-level radioactive waste.

Andra plans to construct the Cigéo repository - an underground system of disposal tunnels - in a natural layer of clay near Bure, to the east of Paris in the Meuse/Haute Marne area. The facility is to be financed by radioactive waste generators - EDF, Framatome and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission - and managed by Andra. It will hold 83,000 cubic metres of long-lived high-level waste (HLW) and intermediate-level waste (ILW).

Framed by three laws passed in 1991, 2006 and 2016, and debated in the context of two public debates in 2005 and 2013, Cigéo draws on the years of research carried out by Andra, in particular through its underground laboratory at Bure.

Andra said the submission of the application with the French regulator, Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), is "a crucial step marking both a culmination and a new start for the project".

"Cigéo's creation authorisation application is both the culmination of 30 years of research and of studies regularly evaluated, and the starting point of a new important phase for the project, that of the evaluation and the examination of the demonstration of repository safety with a view to authorising its construction," said Andra CEO Pierre-Marie Abadie.

"With the deposit of the DAC, we demonstrate our responsibility towards current and future generations, by offering them a management option for the waste already produced while leaving options open for tomorrow."

Examination of Andra's application will be led by ASN, with support from its technical arm, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). This technical examination phase - which will also involve permanent groups of experts - is expected to last about 30 months.

Subsequently, a consultation phase will collect the opinions of the local and national authorities concerned. Finally, a public inquiry, planned for 2026, will allow the public to offer its opinion.

At the end of this process and on the advice of ASN, a licence could be issued by the government to enable the construction of Cigéo to commence.

If licensed, Cigéo will be built along the border of the Meuse and Haute-Marne departments, where research conducted since the 1990s has identified a site with geology favourable to the construction of a deep geological disposal facility.

Located at a depth of approximately 500 metres, Cigéo's underground facility will be expanded over the course of its operations (as the waste packages will arrive gradually over time). It will consist of separate disposal zones for high-level waste and intermediate/low-level waste, connecting drifts and technical facilities. By its one-hundredth year of operation, Cigéo will cover a surface area of approximately 15 square kilometres.

Cigéo's surface facilities will be split across two areas - known as the ramp and shaft zones - located a few kilometres apart. The ramp zone facilities, located between Meuse and Haute-Marne, will be used for receiving and inspecting waste packages and preparing them for transfer to the underground facility via a ramp. The facilities in the shaft zone, located in Meuse, will be used primarily for digging and building the underground structures as well as for disposal of slopes (cuttings resulting from digging).

A geological disposal facility comprises a network of highly-engineered underground vaults and tunnels built to permanently dispose of higher activity radioactive waste so that no harmful levels of radiation ever reach the surface environment. Countries such as Finland, Sweden, Canada, the UK and the USA are also pursuing this option.

Photo: A diagram of the planned Cigéo repository (Image: Andra)

Publication Date
18 January 2023