The law provides that long-term management of long-lived, high-level waste comprises two aspects, which are not mutually exclusive: the partitioning and transmutation of the actinides present in spent fuel from nuclear reactors, and the geological disposal of long-lived high- and intermediate-level waste.
Partitioning and transmutation studies are currently being performed in conjunction with research concerning the design of the Astrid prototype 4th generation fast nuclear reactor. The scientific and technical feasibility of the partitioning of the various actinides has now been demonstrated. An FNR could, as long as it was paired with a pilot reprocessing facility, be used to test the industrial feasibility of the multi-recycling of plutonium and to demonstrate the possibility of industrial transmutation of minor actinides. The industrial feasibility of multi-recycling of plutonium is crucial to the development of FNRs. It would allow plutonium to be managed as a fissile material resource and not as waste to be placed in a geological disposal facility. The industrial feasibility of the transmutation of minor actinides would enable us to consider new waste management options.
Currently, French research is being hindered by the absence of a fast neutron reactor accessible to the transmutation research community, which is preventing France’s scientific, technical and technological progress in this field from being fully exploited. Yet considerable research efforts are required to demonstrate that Astrid can operate by recycling its own plutonium, and assess the advantages and disadvantages of the different conceivable strategies for transmuting minor actinides.
The year 2010-2011 saw a very important stage in the deep geological disposal of radioactive waste, which, after a preparatory R&D phase, is now entering the industrial implementation phase. In September 2010, Andra presented an industrial organisational structure and strategy for the disposal project, named Cigéo (the industrial centre for geological disposal).
Andra produced the 2005 and 2009 reports and the Zira proposal. The transition from an R&D-based approach to industrial implementation is generating fresh difficulties. The Board would also like to underline the fact that the producers (EDF, CEA and Areva) have, over many years, developed great expertise in nuclear facilities, underground structures and the management of the related risks. The Board recommends that the producers should be involved throughout the implementation of the industrial project, and that their contribution should be put to good use, through a process yet to be implemented, in which Andra would keep all it prerogatives as project owner.
The Board would remind readers that in less than twelve months, the preparatory file for the public debate is due to be published, bringing to public attention the essential elements of the project, notably the disposal system, the reversibility conditions, the layout of the surface facilities, the shafts and the inclined drifts, the inventory of waste to be placed in the disposal facility and the estimated cost of the facility following the submission of the Court of Auditors’ report on the cost of nuclear power.