French court: NGOs have no right to challenge nuclear "public authorities"
This week’s post is an update on the struggle of several non-governmental groups in France to shut down the government’s plan to bury nuclear waste under the village of Bure. There have always been plenty of good reasons to object to this project, but the discovery of a geothermic energy source directly under the proposed waste depository added what, one would think, would surely be a fatal blow. However, the legal case brought by the NGOs has not been proceeding well. This post puts the most recent news first, then republishes some previous posts on the topic in reverse chronological order.
À Bure, les antinucléaires se battent toujours, L’Essentiel (Luxembourg), 2015/05/20
Antinuclear groups fighting against the nuclear waste burial project in Bure have filed an appeal after having lost a case against ANDRA (Agence Nationale Pour La Gestion des Déchets Radioactifs).
The case brought by the antinuclear groups was dismissed at the end of March. Their lawyer said they had accused ANDRA of “lies… concerning the controversial project to store highly toxic nuclear waste in the Meuse region.” She announced on Wednesday that they have filed an appeal. Sortir du Nucléaire, and five other local organizations had accused ANDRA of “wrongful act” (faute in French legal terminology), but on March 26, 2015, the High Court in Nanterrre judged that these groups did not have a stake in the issue, thus they had no right to this legal action.
The lawyer, Etienne Ambroselli, said, “This decision is not what we expected. We have registered our appeal in the court of appeals in Versailles.”
The antinuclear groups have targeted a project that is unique in France: CIGEO is to bury, for thousands of years, the most highly radioactive waste in the country 500 meters below the small village of Bure. The groups allege that ANDRA lied in deliberately underestimating the extent of warm water aquifers under the site. This was done, allegedly, to facilitate the continuation of the project in this rural area of Haute-Marne.
However, the court in Nanterre decided that it was up to the “public authorities” to evaluate the validity of the study done by ANDRA on the geothermic potential of Bure because it was they who were responsible for the project.
Buried in impermeable argillite rock, CIGEO will be a hermetically sealed tomb. It will receive only 3% of the volume of radioactive waste that has been produced in France, but this small volume will contain 99% of the radioactivity of all these French wastes. The most toxic materials remain dangerous for more than a million years.
Final authorization is still far from being acquired. ANDRA hopes to have a green light from the government to proceed by 2020, and hopes to begin filling the site by 2025.
Unfortunately, the general public is not thinking too deeply about the proposals in all nuclear powered countries to bury nuclear waste. It seems so intuitively obvious that if you bury something it will be gone and the problem will be solved. The nucleocrats who promote these projects don’t want the public to hear the contrary voices that have raised the obvious questions about nuclear waste burial. For example, the French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Petit had this to say in an interview in in 2014:
In general, there are two sorts of wastes. There are those that can be called “passive,” like asbestos, and those that can be called “active” that evolve chemically, decompose, and eventually produce flammable gas, and heat. Nuclear wastes obviously belong in the second “active” category. They release heat by their exo-energetic transmutation. So storage sites require powerful ventilation systems that need to be maintained for centuries. Some wastes that are plastic decompose relatively quickly, releasing hydrogen. When the air reaches 4% hydrogen, it becomes explosive.
In the year 2000, they began to store various types of waste, one of which was mercury, underground at a mine in Alsace. In 2002, a fire broke out. They wanted to get everything out, but they realized it could never be recovered… A fire in a mine is more complicated to manage than a fire above ground. It’s like an oven. The heat has no way out. A small fire can quickly result in elevated temperatures at which the containers begin to melt.
In Bure, a fire would be catastrophic. The wastes are vitrified (in a glass-like state), but glass is not really a solid. It’s a very viscuous fluid. At ordinary temperatures, it can do the job for thousands of years. It is not soluble. But the weak point of glass is its low resistance to heat. At 600°C, the glass will flow and liberate its contents. Underground, this temperature could be reached very quickly. In the mine there are also support structures made of metal and reinforced concrete. Concrete melts above 1100°. The clay in Bure is also saturated with water. It couldn’t withstand being heated above 70°. The creators of the CIGEO project have great faith in a material called bentonite with which they hope to seal the caverns. It’s a particular type of clay that can absorb water and dilate, but it has the same problem as clay in terms of heat resistance.
Fire hazards come not only from the concern about hydrogen explosions. The plan at Bure is to deposit some elements treated with bitumen, but bitumen becomes fluid at 60° and flammable at 300°. Any way you look at it, this project is absurd.
The only thing to do now is to leave everything on the surface, even for centuries if necessary, as a way to make them less toxic by transmutation. There is no hurry. But the government and the barons of nuclear are exerting an enormous pressure to begin burial by 2015. They want to hide all signs of the nuisance that has accumulated for half a century and given nuclear energy such a bad image. If the CIGEO project is realized, this will be a precedent for nucelopaths the world over, and they will all follow suit, saying, “après moi, le déluge!”
Note that these comments made no mention of the geothermic energy source under the proposed caverns. If catastrophic fires or leaks happen sometime in the future, the toxic contents will leak down into this valuable water and energy source.
The articles below, about the antinuclear groups’ case against ANDRA, were posted earlier this year (2015):
France's Bure Nuclear Waste Site on Trial
Recently, I posted a translation from France’s other satirical/serious political journal Le Canard enchaîné regarding the inconvenience of a geothermic energy source that was discovered under the planned site of France’s underground nuclear waste storage facility (see the article below). Several citizens’ groups banded together to sue ANDRA, the government agency building the facility, and they had their hearing on January 5, 2015.
Even if they get a favorable ruling in the case, the court is powerless to order ANDRA to halt construction. The most that can be hoped for is a condemnation and increased public awareness of this serious flaw in the plans of the French state to deal with its nuclear waste problem. In normal times, nuclear issues have a hard time getting onto the radar of public discourse, and this tendency was only increased when the horrific murders happened in Paris on January 7th, pushing all other news to the margins. It is unfortunate that this recourse to the courts is the only way to bring attention to what is really a public policy problem—a political issue concerning a looming environmental catastrophe. One might think that the issue would be taken as seriously as freedom of speech, or the importance of defending values that one holds sacred. Fighting the despoiling of the land is an issue that could unify everyone in a divided nation and a divided world, but instead we argue about religion and the right to insult others.
What follows below is a statement about the hearing prepared by the plaintiffs who brought the case to court.
The French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA) kept lying in court: Summary of the court hearing on January 5th, 2015
Following a lawsuit by six concerned citizen groups (ASODEDRA, BureStop55, Cedra52, Habitants Vigilants de Gondrecourt-le-Château, MIRABEL - Lorraine Nature Environnement, Réseau "Sortir du nucléaire"), on January the 5th, ANDRA was called to the Superior Court of Nanterre [near Paris].
We sued ANDRA for the offense of hiding data on the geothermal resource of the Bure site for more than 15 years. This geothermal energy resource impedes the construction of a nuclear waste disposal site there, as it might lead to people of the future drilling through the wastes. Our lawyer demonstrated that ANDRA willingly failed to execute its duty to honestly inform the public. As a public agency, it is compelled to do so by law. Attorney Etienne Ambroselli said, “We want to stop ANDRA from practicing the art of misinformation. We expect the court to condemn ANDRA for not telling the truth about the difficulties it has encountered in carrying out its mission to manage nuclear wastes over the long term.
The misinformation went on during the legal procedures before the hearing. ANDRA did not produce any new arguments; the weaknesses of these had been emphasized in the citizen groups’ replications before the hearing. Stuck in this awkward position, ANDRA now has to modify its message with further misinformation. While it had declared there was no geothermal potential, it now recognizes there is. Henceforth,to elude the problem of safety, ANDRA now says it would be possible to tap the geothermal brine near the site, but this would not affect the safety of the site. Henceforth, according to ANDRA's attorney, incidentally drilling through the wastes would release only one hundredth the amount of natural radioactivity! It appears that there is nothing to worry about with these high-level long lived wastes, which raises an interesting question: why bury them if they are so inconsequential? As for the Safety Rules [Règle Fondamentale de Sûreté, RFS III.2.f, then, Guide de Sûreté 2008 of the French legislation] they would be meaningless...
When the memory of the waste dump will have faded, people of the future might wish to take advantage of the earth's thermal energy, and drilling operations might contact the wastes (this is quite possible considering the decline of fossil resources). The future generations will be the victims. It would be irresponsible for our leaders to give the go-ahead to such a project.
Without new arguments, ANDRA's attorney could not justify the malfeasance and unacceptable malfunctions which happened during ANDRA’S drilling in the geothermal investigation. He only pretended that such problems (anomalous obstruction of the tool by mud, inability to conduct sufficiently long hydraulic testing, inappropriate sampling and temperature recording...) would be the "usual" problems encountered in such a task.
The judgment will be given March the 27th at 14h. We hope the court will recognize the obvious strengths of the plea brought forward by our concerned-citizens groups.
The Inconvenience of a Geothermic Energy Source Under France's Nuke Waste Dump
The French weekly newspaper Le Canard enchaîné provides aggressive and biting coverage of the nuclear establishment in a way that mainstream media refrain from doing. Le Canard has been in print since 1915, except for a period during the German occupation when it was forced to close. The journal had a moment of international fame in September 2013 when it ran satirical cartoons about Tokyo being awarded the 2020 Olympics in spite of Japan’s troubles containing its nuclear catastrophe.
Unfortunately for readers who would like easy access to its reporting, Le Canard has stuck to its policy of being print-only. There is a Le Canard enchaîné website, but it exists only to introduce the journal, sell subscriptions and occupy the domain name that imitators and detractors would like to possess.
Occasionally, I notice people in my social network sharing photos of pages from Le Canard (a previous one translated to English is here) and today I came across the following report about a fiasco at France’s nuclear waste disposal site in Bure. I’m posting this translation of content from Le Canard, hoping that they won’t mind the publicity and the fact that this sample is made available to English readers throughout the world so that they will be forewarned about how nuclear waste disposal projects always offer a false promise of a final solution for nuclear waste, along with pledges of jobs and economic development for the remote communities that are always exploited for these ventures.
Nuclear Waste on the Aquifer
by Professor Canardeau
translation of Des déchets (nucléaires) sur la nappe
Le Canard enchaîné
A huge pocket of warm water exists beneath what is supposed to be France’s largest nuclear garbage pit, located near the town Bure. This site is destined to store, for at least 100,000 years, the most dangerous high-level waste that has accumulated since France built its first reactor. 125 meters tall, 30 kilometers wide and dozens of kilometers long, this reserve of warm water could sooner or later be used to produce heat or energy. The water is a comfortable 66 degrees, but it is found at a depth of 1,800 meters, while the nuclear waste is to be buried above it at a depth of 500 meters.
On January 5, 2015, the agency for the management of radioactive waste (ANDRA) will find itself on trial in high court in Nanterre for having divulged false information concerning the supposed absence of concern about significant underground water tables at the site in Bure. The citizen groups Sortir du nucléaire and Stop Bure 55, and Mirabel Lorraine Nature Environnement have brought the charges.
Some background: The fundamental rules related to deep geological disposal of nuclear waste, established in 1991 and still in force, clearly state that sites should not involve significant concerns about geothermal sources or build-up of heat. But in 2002, the geophysicist André Mourot (now deceased) was going through the archives at the Bureau of Geological and Mining Research in Nancy, Reims, and he discovered the existence of this aquifer, and he realized its significance as a source of energy. The geologist Antoine Godinot remembers that André Mourot wrote a report and distributed it to all interested groups. Next, they demanded that ANDRA conduct testing to learn fully about the aquifer.
ANDRA made no response until 2008. “What a disaster, this drilling and testing,” laughed the nuclear physicist Monique Sené. “The probe got stuck. They couldn’t even reach the aquifer.”
This fiasco didn’t stop ANDRA from declaring in 2009 that the geothermic source is negligible. Since then it has stuck to this position. To the malcontents it accuses of spreading this information about a geothermic potential, it responds, “The studies done by ANDRA concern whether there is an exceptional geothermic resource.” For ANDRA, as far as Bure is concerned, there is “no geothermic resource of exceptional interest.” Everything hinges on what is understood by “exceptional.”
Tada! At the end of 2013, at the request of the local information committee tracking the Bure laboratory (composed of representatives of the State, local collectives, and civil society groups), a Swiss group called Geowatt, specializing in geothermic energy resources, produced a report that stated, “We are of the opinion that the geothermic resources of the Bure region could at present be developed at an economical cost with the use of appropriate technology.” The nail in the coffin was the additional comment stating, “The burial of nuclear waste prevents access to the geothermic resource.”
The physicist Bernard Laponche points out, “If we build this project at this site, we are going to impose enormous risks on future generations, and for sure one day people will want to exploit this geothermic energy, but they will stumble upon the nuclear waste that is blocking access to it. ”
Perhaps ANDRA will be able to leave their contact information for future generations to get in touch.
translation of Des déchets (nucléaires) sur la nappe
Le Canard enchaîné