French radioactive waste agency applies to build €25bn underground storage site

By Neil Gerrard17 January 2023

France’s radioactive waste agency Andra has submitted an application to the government to build an underground storage facility in the north east of the country.

A computer-generated image of how the Cigeo site could look from above A computer-generated image of how the Cigeo site could look from above (Image courtesy of Andra)

The move comes under the €25 billion Cigéo project and would see highly radioactive waste stored deep underground on the border between the Meuse and Haute Marne departments.

The project would involve building a facility capable of storing up to 83,000m3 of high- and medium-activity radioactive waste with a long half life 500m under the surface. It is designed to handle all of the radioactive material that existing nuclear power plants and research centres have produced or will produce in the future.

The application comes after 30 years of research into the project, as well as three laws passed in 1991, 2006 and 2016, and three public debates.

Andra has already built an underground research laboratory in the area to research whether the its geology makes storage of high-level radioactive waste suitable. In 2005, it identified an area of 250km2 around the laboratory with a stable clay layer that allows the long-term containment of radioactive material.

It will build Cigéo in this zone if it is approved. Cigéo will consist of surface facilities in two areas (a “ramp” zone and a “shaft” zone), connected to an underground facility with different disposal sections. A funicular rail line running 5km down into the storage area will transport the waste. The facility will be deployed gradually over a period of more than 100 years over an area eventually expected to reach 15km2.

If approved, construction could start as early as 2027 before coming into service for a pilot phase in 2035-2040.

France’s ministry of ecological transition will now refer the application to the country’s nuclear safety authority, the ASN. A panel of experts and the Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire will advise on the technical aspects of the project, before it goes forward for regulatory consultation and a public hearing prior to approval.

Andra director general Pierre-Marie Abadie said the project could keep the radioactive waste secure for hundreds of thousands of years. He said, “This is first of all the fruit of 30 years of regularly evaluated, progressive development. The project has been refined on a scientific and technical level over the course of time. But this application and the dossier that is to come from the ASN also bring us to the start of a new phase: Cigéo is preparing to be realised and Andra is becoming its operator.”

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