France Starts Public Debate on Underground Nuclear Waste Site

France has started a public inquiry into a plan to build a nuclear waste repository to be buried half a kilometer under the northeastern countryside.

A series of public meetings will be held through Oct. 15, according to the inquiry’s website, and the government and regulators will consider the outcome when they decide whether to approve the site.

If approved, the Cigeo project will store highly radioactive waste from Electricite de France SA’s 58 reactors in a site near Bure that straddles the Meuse and Haute-Marne regions. Andra, the waste-management agency spearheading the plan, wants to start construction in 2019 and begin operations in 2025.

The facility will cost 13.5 billion euros ($17.4 billion) to 16.5 billion euros for construction and operation over 100 years, according to Andra’s website.

The inquiry is “a masquerade and pure exercise in public relations,” anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucleaire said yesterday in a statement. No one can guarantee the safety of the site for such a long period, it said.

EDF now stores waste at reactor sites and at above-ground facilities at La Hague in northern France. Sweden and Finland are also developing deep repositories after the European Union established nuclear waste disposal standards in 2011.

Under French law, nuclear operators including EDF and Areva SA have to build portfolios or amass funds to pay for the decommissioning of reactors and radioactive waste storage.

A parliamentary report published last year concluded operators may not be setting aside enough money. Cost estimates for the Cigeo site vary from 14.4 billion euros to 35 billion euros, that report said.

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