What legacy for centuries to come? The national debate on the management of radioactive materials and waste launched Wednesday wants to enlighten citizens on a complex issue, reflecting the cleavages around nuclear power.
In a country that has the world's second largest reactor park, this debate is the “heir to a history of conflict,” noted the president of the National Public Debate Commission Chantal Jouanno.
But “we want to try to overcome the divisions,” added Isabelle Harel-Dutirou, president of the special commission that organizes until 25 September.
“Everyone agrees that we must today make decisions that preserve future generations (…) but the solutions diverge,” she told AFP.
“Some say our responsibility is not to burden the future of future generations by not leaving an unmanageable legacy.”
In this camp are the NGOs opposed to the Cigeo project of landfilling 500 meters deep in Bure (Meuse), who want to wait for possible advances in science before choosing a solution that they consider irreversible.
“Others say our responsibility is to make the right decisions today,” says Harel-Dutirou.
Thus, legislators voted in 2006 a law choosing the storage of the most dangerous waste in deep geological layer, which led to the project Cigéo.
“In the framework of the law (…), it is necessary that one works on the definition of the pilot industrial phase and the reversibility” of Cigeo, insisted Virginie Schwarz, which represented the ministry of the ecological Transition to the first debate Wednesday.
So some question the usefulness of a debate on this choice already made, and more generally on how the discussions will be taken into account for the drafting of the 5th National Plan for the management of radioactive materials and waste ( PNGMDR) 2019-2021.
“Debate does not make sense if the choices on this subject are already locked,” denounced in a statement the Network Out of Nuclear, which decided not to participate.
This NGO and others advocate first for the cessation of nuclear power, while the government has pushed back from 2025 to 2035 the goal of reducing the share of nuclear power in electricity production to 50%.
– Hands with “six fingers” –
At the end of 2017, France had 1.62 million m3 of radioactive waste, according to the latest inventory of the National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste (Andra).
High-level radioactive waste (HLW), which can be radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, represents 0.2%, the equivalent of the volume of an Olympic swimming pool, but 94.9% of the level of radioactivity, and have the time to join Cigéo.
The committee organizing the debate will also not elude the question of the “risks” and “impacts” of these substances on health and the environment.
“This is a subject that remains unknown, on which some received ideas are conveyed”, noted before the debate Sylvain Granger, head of waste management at EDF, ensuring that “the waste management system works well and safely “.
But waste is not the only one in question. In a country that has made the controversial choice of reprocessing, “materials”, ie radioactive substances for which “future use is planned or planned”, should also be at the heart of the debate.
The question of the storage capacities of these materials, particularly used fuels awaiting reprocessing, will be clarified by a report from the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN).
While La Hague's pools are likely to reach saturation levels by 2030, EDF is considering a new centralized pool, while Greenpeace is advocating dry storage in the sub-surface (just below the surface), deeming the pools “vulnerable” “.
But beyond the technique, there are “human, societal and ethical considerations,” said Ms. Harel-Dutirou.
As proof, the chosen logo: yellow barrels in front of which stand colored hands, symbols of the “trace of the Man” on the Earth.
Hands that should perhaps have “six fingers”, quips Michel Guéritte, anti-nuclear activist and opponent of Cigéo.