French nuclear waste project hungry for land

Some people might wonder why I write so much about le nucléaire in France while I live so much closer to Fukushima. One reason is that I can understand written French much better than I understand written Japanese. Another is that the Fuku-Ichi catastrophe is already being covered intensely by others, and I ran out of things to say about. The best reason is that what is happening in France has some instructive lessons to teach to other nuclearized nations that haven't given much thought to what to do about nuclear fuel after it has been through the fissioning process. This end-product is commonly called "nuclear waste" but it should be recognized as the main product of the nuclear industry. The heat that fissioning generates is just a passing phenomenon, a by-product.
We can at least give France credit for trying to face up to the fact that something needs to be done with nuclear waste. Nations such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have pretended for a long time that the problem could be ignored. Since the triple meltdowns and spent fuel fire in Fukushima, the issue has gained some attention, thanks in part to former prime minister Koizumi's efforts to make the political establishment face up to it. It has become obvious that the original plan to "recycle" nuclear waste with fast breeder reactors was a total pipe dream, so now there has been some talk of finding communities that might agree to allow geological disposal in a suitable site. Yet suitable sites are impossible to find, and even if there were any, agreeable communities would still be hard to find. Recently, there was even talk of burying nuclear waste under the seabed.
Over the last two years I've translated several articles about the French CIGEO project that aims to create a deep geological repository in Bure, in northeastern France (see the links below). I believe these reports from France can serve as a valuable warning about what rural communities around the world can expect when national authorities come around trying to impose their grand plans for "the final solution."
This latest installment illustrates how the original plan, once it has got some level of local agreement and momentum, can later take on other aims and have wider effects than the locals originally understood.    

In Bure, nuclear waste clears a path through the thickets
by Professor Canardeau
December 2015

a translation of
A Bure, les déchets nucléaires se tirent la bourre
Le Canard enchaîné, décembre 2015

Since 2008, in Bure, where the highest level nuclear wastes produced by 58 EDF reactors are supposed to be buried for 100,000 years (and longer!), the organization in charge of this project has been undertaking land acquisitions at a frenetic pace. The purchases consist of effectively 3,000 hectares that ANDRA (l'Agence nationale pour la gestion des déchets radioactifs) has already bought in Haute-Marne and la Meuse. Yet the above-ground installation at CIGEO (the deep geological repository for nuclear waste) is to occupy only 300 hectares, ten times less than what has been purchased.
Opponents of CIGEO are intrigued to discover that certain parcels of land have been bought at high prices, as much as 10,000 euros per hectare, which is double or triple the market price.
Jean-Paul Baillet, assistant director general of ANDRA explains these prices quite simply, "We sometimes had to buy land from farmers, and we also had to buy their houses, their cattle…" Their cattle? "Of course we resold those." But farmers in the area are beginning to fear an escalation of prices. On November 15th, 2015, eleven tractors assembled in front of ANDRA offices to protest the land grab by the agency.

3,000 hectares: for what exactly?

But why such an unhealthy appetite for land? Why did ANDRA buy 2,254 hectares for 15 million euros, and an additional 850 hectares reserved close to SAFER, the regional rural land management society, making a total of 3,014 hectares? Jean-Paul Baillet of ANDRA adds, "By offering land swaps, we wanted to avoid having to expropriate land from farmers who found they had land on the site." And the forests? Among all the lands purchased, 2,052 hectares are forest land. "This is also to have land for exchange because the entrances to the tunnels will be on forested lands. We have to make up for this loss of environmental heritage." But to buy more than 2,000 hectares of forests to compensate for at most 100 hectares cut down? This is what is bizarre. Unperturbed, Jean-Paul Baillet elaborates, "We want to conserve the forests as good custodians while we safeguard our investments."
If ANDRA wants to safeguard the 80 million-euro budget for CIGEO, all the forests of la Marne won't be enough," scoffs Maurice Michel, president of Asodedra, one of the local groups opposed to nuclear waste disposal. Bernard Heuillon, a proprietor of a family-owned forest in la Meuse, confirmed such a view. "I never earned anything from these woods." This former geologist doesn't doubt that these purchases indicate ANDRA's intention to expand CIGEO. What if, as he believes, the agency is preparing to store radioactive waste above ground?
It's plausible, in effect: the storage site in la Manche, next to la Hague, where there are medium and low-level wastes, has been full since 1994. And it's on the move. Since 2003, new waste has been sent to the storage facility in l'Aube. But this site isn't designed to hold it permanently.
So, is Bure set to be a future site of above-ground nuclear waste storage? After all, while we are waiting for the passage of a law on "reversibility" to come soon, the burial project has not yet been officially validated.

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