Science

Nuclear: is the waste produced by France properly accounted for?

How much nuclear waste has France produced so far and how much will it generate in the future? Difficult to answer these two questions. The V National Plan for the Management of Materials and Radioactive Waste (PNGMDR) – a document prepared by the Ministry of Ecological Transition – should have already provided precise and quantified elements. But it is more than two years late. And we do not know if once completed it will address the angry issues, such as the consideration of waste linked to nuclear deterrence, or the impact of the abandonment of the Astrid project, which in theory allowed the recycling of radioactive waste. generation reactors.

More than 250,000 m3 in 2100

“It is difficult to get a little transparency, even if much progress has been made in thirty years”, confesses Émilie Cariou, deputy of the Meuse, member of the parliamentary office for the evaluation of technological and scientific options (OPECST) and Co-rapporteur of PNGMDR. It is true that the evaluation of the management of waste produced by civil nuclear energy is increasingly well documented. On the military side, however, the lack of information persists. “The data are contradictory, but above all, some basic figures are missing”, confirms Patrice Bouveret, director of the Armaments Observatory and co-spokesperson for France of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

In a study published this Wednesday, ICAN estimated the volume of military nuclear waste generated by our country at almost 150,000 cubic meters (m3). “If we continue the trend based on previous figures, we could end up with more than 250,000 m3 by 2100,” said Jean-Marie Collin, disarmament expert and co-spokesperson for ICAN. Today, these radioactive waste are not the subject of any serious study, the authors emphasize. However, they represent almost 10% of the radioactive waste in the country. Perhaps even more: because certain quantities produced in the past are unknown.

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“In Polynesia, for example, the places where the waste is located are well listed in the available documents. But on the contrary, the amounts are not indicated. However, we know that there were 174 underground tests that they left behind each time. Dangerous radioactive material! The same for Algeria: the quantities produced do not appear in the inventories. Therefore, we could have surprises ”, laments Patrice Bouveret.

What forms does this waste take? “There is a little of all cases, details the specialist. In Algeria, they can be planes or tanks buried in graves, which were also partly recovered by the local population despite the danger; radioactive material remained at the bottom of the underground galleries. The explosion of a bomb carried out in 1962 even caused the emergence of highly radioactive lava. ”

Polynesia has also had its share of radioactive contamination: cans and airplane engines dumped to the bottom of the ocean, contaminated waste buried in wells … However, between the reports of the Atomic Energy Commission and Alternative Energies (CEA) and those of the National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (Andra), the figures differ. “That raises questions, says Jean-Marie Collin. If differences appear today, we run the risk of having opaque accounting impossible to unravel in twenty years.”

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Therefore, the time has come for evaluation work. “Currently, the very definition of waste is problematic, says Patrice Bouveret. Operators only have to declare that this or that material can be reused so that it escapes the classification of waste and, therefore, is not included as such. This this is the case, for example, with the fuels used to power nuclear submarines. They have all the characteristics of nuclear waste, but are not part of it. ” The global renewal of the French nuclear navy will soon make Cherbourg the first atomic city in the world, with the presence in its port, in 2050, of 18 nuclear reactors awaiting reduction of radioactivity, before being dismantled. Comprehensive, highlights the ICAN report. The storage would officially last a few decades. Too vague a figure for Jean-Marie Collin: “It would be France’s responsibility to clarify the duration and provide general answers on the volumes of military waste so that the corresponding management costs can then be estimated. Parliamentarians could then vote for or against the renovating equipment with all the data in mind. ”Émilie Cariou agrees:“ Every nuclear issue, if left unaddressed, will have an impact on both the taxpayer and the consumer. ”The United States, United Kingdom, and Russia are already demonstrating transparency in this area, so why not France?

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