What would Voltaire say about CIGEO?

What would Voltaire say about CIGEO?
Chateau de Cirey, Haute-Marne
In the 18th century, the great French author and activist Voltaire (they called them philosophes in those days) spent several years living with his lover, the mathematician and physicist Émilie du Châtelet, at Château de Cirey. The place belonged to the Marquis du Châtelet, but he was hardly ever at home and was cool with his wife's choice of roommate. 
   Voltaire was one of the wealthy one-percenters back in his day, but he was also one of the key Englightenment figures who helped bring an end to European dynasties and the hereditary privilege of the nobility. He spent some time in the Bastille as a political prisoner, went into exile numerous times, and never chickened out when he saw an injustice to lend his famous voice to.
   The Château de Cirey is in the Haute-Marne region, which is also the place where the French nuclear establishment hopes to bury the nation’s high level nuclear waste near the town of Bure. The historical coincidence makes me wonder what Voltaire would say today if he could witness the modern outrage of the French nuclear legacy.
The French agency ANDRA (Agence National Pour la Gestion des Déchets Radioactifs) has a plan to create CIGEO (Centre Industrial de Stockage Géologique), the nuclear waste disposal/storage site that may be approved for the Haute-Marne region that is, for the time being, famous more for its champagne. ANDRA and CIGEO have vast resources at their disposal, so they have been able to publish a great deal of information in English and German, in addition to French, in order to give to the international community their view of the proposal, and of the long road over public debate and steps of government approval that they hope will lead to a green light in the year 2019. Readers can peruse their documents and make up their own minds as to whether they make a convincing case that the project will indeed be reversible and safe for an adequate length of time.

The CIGEO website presently declares:

The public debate and exchange phase concerning the CIGEO project, which began last May, has drawn to a close. Even if the public meetings that had initially been planned could not take place due to opponents of the project preventing anybody from speaking, the debate was still able to move forward, particularly on the Internet.

The ANDRA website describes the conclusion of the public debate period this way:

“Christian Leyrit and Claude Bernet emphasised that the debate had been rich, while expressing regret that public meetings had been prevented from taking place. More than 76,000 visits were registered on the public debate website, 1,500 questions asked, 500 opinions given and 154 stakeholder reports submitted. The departments of Meuse and Haute-Marne account for almost half of the stakeholder reports, 25% of the statements made and 18.5% of the questions asked… ANDRA will examine the proposal for a new project scope, integrating a "pilot" storage stage. This proposal is in keeping with that [sic] from the citizen's conference for a trial phase under real conditions.”

It seems like those pesky anti-nuclear activists spoiled the fun for everyone, but the debates went ahead as best as they could regardless. One may be tempted to say that these opponents lost their legitimacy by disrupting the process and withdrawing from it, but it could be the case that the very idea of debating CIGEO would be dignifying it in a way it doesn’t deserve. There are many once-common but now-repugnant cultural practices that we no longer debate. Society may be reaching a point at which nuclear waste management and the continued production of nuclear waste are coming to be regarded as slavery was in 1860s America. No self-respecting moral person could bring himself to even discuss the question of whether one group of people had the right to enslave another in chains.
The French anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucléaire doesn’t have the same resources as ANDRA and CIGEO that would allow them to publish all of their messages in foreign languages, so I’m helping them out again with a volunteer translation of one of their press releases regarding the proposed pilot project at Bure. It is followed by another translation--an essay by a French nuclear industry insider who wrote recently, under a pseudonym, about the flawed assumptions behind the CIGEO project.
Translation 1

A “pilot project” for the burial of radioactive wastes: a plan to impose CIGEO (Centre Industrial de Stockage Géologique)* by incremental steps

ANDRA (Agence National Pour la Gestion des Déchets Radioactifs) has just released its conclusions regarding the public debate on CIGEO. In spite of strong objections, the deep geological disposal project is being maintained under the cover of a “pilot project.” This stratagem for getting a foot in the door for the project is unacceptable. It won’t make the problems disappear.

A way for CIGEO to get its foot in the door

In order to not lose face after facing numerous criticisms expressed during the public debate period, ANDRA proposes now to carry out the CIGEO project in small steps. The timetable has been extended, the application for authorization will now be done in two stages, and, above all, there will be an “industrial phase pilot project.”
While being labelled as “reversible,” this way of proceeding is no more than a way of slowly establishing the project while the construction of infrastructure continues apace. There is no guarantee that the wastes disposed of “experimentally” could ever be brought back to the surface. The residents near the site in Bure have already seen the “laboratory” transformed into an industrial center for geologic disposal. Now they will face another rude shock when they realize that the pilot project has turned CIGEO into a fait accompli.

The pilot project exists only to divert attention from the serious flaws of CIGEO

   It is certain that ANDRA is hoping to divert attention from the serious criticisms that were raised during the period of public debate. The problems extend over every aspect of CIGEO: the costs, the exact nature of the inventory of wastes, concerns of neighboring countries (Luxembourg and Germany), risks of fires and hydrogen explosions, ethical issues. No pilot project can make these issues disappear. In fact, recent problems at a similar site in New Mexico have confirmed that burial is an option that should be abandoned.
The pilot project will also not make ANDRA’s lies fade away. The geothermic potential of the Bure site is another factor that cannot be ignored. This risk in itself is enough reason to cancel the project.
The conclusions that should have been made after the debates are the following:

1.     We must definitively abandon the CIGEO project by first withdrawing it from the law on energy transition.
2.     We must break the impasse over the issue of radioactive waste burial.
3.     We must cease the transformation of the area into a monoculture of the nuclear industry.
4.     We must stop the production of nuclear waste.

It is not the nuclear wastes that should be buried but rather the CIGEO project itself.

*translator’s note: The public debates have made ANDRA realize that public acceptance hinges on convincing the public that this is a reversible storage project and not a permanent disposal project. The terms are as charged with significance as the terms pro-life and pro-choice in the debate over abortion. ANDRA would like to convince the public that if there is trouble down in the hole, people of the future will be able to safely retrieve the wastes and figure out another way to deal with them—as if bringing them back up and guarding them above ground for 100,000 years would be a “solution” that we could feel good about. CIGEO now has a new definition: centre industriel de stockage réversible profond de déchets radioactifs en Meuse/Haute-Marne.

A document which goes well with the press release above is an essay published by a Swiss group called Appel de Genève II. The document is significant because it is written under a pseudonym by a whistleblower from inside the French nucleocracy. I have translated the first three paragraphs that explain his professional qualifications and his reasons for speaking out. I haven’t translated the rest of the essay because it supports many of the same points in the argument made by Jean-Pierre Petit which I translated previously. In particular, the main concern is that the waste will continue to generate heat, which will denature the containers in unpredictable ways and turn the tunnels into ovens. Furthermore, no one can guarantee that underground water flow, humidity and the geological state of the site will remain unchanged over 100,000 years. 
Translation 2

Appel de Genève II
February 12, 2014

The CIGEO deep geological disposal site for radioactive waste in Bure : How the adventurism of the nucleocrats risks an unprecedented disaster that could one day be called a crime against the biosphere.

by Hans Zumkeller

Let me introduce myself. I have worked for a long time for the CEA (Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives) in the thermal section. This involves working with everything related to the production of steam, turbines, and their connections to alternators. My responsibilities also included securing heat removal of reactor cores in case of an emergency shutdown. I also participated in studies concerning the circulation of sodium coolant in fast neutron reactors. My title is chef de service, but I don’t have responsibilities in the neutronic field, the nature of irradiated materials, their embrittlement, reprocessing, the behavior of new fuel types, etc. My knowledge as a graduate of one of the prestigious French Grandes Ecoles gives me an ability to manage problems which is above that of a simple technician.
What makes me different from some of my colleagues is that I have a natural curiosity which led me to acquire a breadth of knowledge beyond my official duties that covers several, but not all, domains.
Everyone will immediately understand that I could write this only under a pseudonym. Several colleagues have views identical to mine or close to them, but they stay silent. It is rare that we speak directly about these things among ourselves. At our level, as important and responsible specialists in the industry, problems are evoked in veiled terms and jokes. Prudence is essential.

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