France’s ‘underground Chernobyl’ moves step closer

France's 'underground Chernobyl' moves step closer
Photo: AFP
Some say "nuclear dustbin" others say "underground Chernobyl", but either way what is arguably France's most controversial building project moved nearer to becoming a reality this week.

One of the most controversial building projects in France is a step closer to seeing the light of day after the French parliament gave the green light to push ahead with facility that will store dangerous nuclear waste deep underground.

The site located 500 metres under the village of Bure, around 200km to the east of Paris and home to around 100 residents, has been hotly contested for over a decade.

Locals and environmental groups have fiercely protested against the planned facility – dubbed an “underground Chernobyl” by one opposing Green MP – but this week it moved a step closer to reality.

Deadly landslide at planned French nuclear waste site

MPs in the French parliament (albeit a half-empty one) followed senators by giving the green light to a bill that essentially allows for the project to continue as planned deep under the ground below Bure.

That drew an angry response from opposition MPs, locals, and environmental groups who have blasted the project as a dangerous “nuclear dustbin”.

France is heavily dependent on nuclear energy and the site at Bure is required to house around 80,000 cubic metres of the most dangerous material produced by France’s 58 nuclear reactors.

The waste will be stored in special barrels within a network of underground areas around 300km in length. They would be stored there for 100 years before the site would be closed and sealed.

The planned nuclear waste landfill site, named Cigeo (Centre industriel de stockage geologique), has been criticized for the impact on the environment but also for its price tag, that could be up to €35 billion.

The group “Bure Zone Libre” is the main opposition but complain their voices have not been heard.

Opponents have held numerous protests and earlier this month police had to remove dozens of militant protesters from a site in a nearby forest, where work was taking place.

To appease locals France's nuclear waste agency Andra is already spending €60million ($80m) every year to support local community projects in the sparsely populated area. 

The project was hit by tragedy earlier this year when a landslide left one dead at an underground laboratory.


But despite the vote in parliament this week the the underground repository scheme, which is due to begin in 2025 is not done and dusted just yet.

It is currently undergoing a period of testing with scientists still gauging whether the waste can be stored safely underground.

The Meuse/Haute Marne Underground Research Laboratory aims to study the geological formation of the area to work out if this would be a safe place to store France’s highly radioactive waste.

Once testing has taken place it will be down to the government to have the final say on whether site at Bure goes ahead and only after a public inquiry has taken place.

In short there is still a long way to go.

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