Background

At the end of the 1950s, France developed a civil nuclear industry and irradiated fuel reprocessing facilities were created. These were first of all used for reprocessing the metallic fuel from 1st generation graphite-moderated, gas-cooled UNGG reactors. At the beginning of the 1980s, reprocessing methods were adapted to the reprocessing of spent fuel from water reactors, then also used for reprocessing oxide-based fuels from French and overseas reactors.  

As a result of this reprocessing of spent fuel, a variety of radioactive waste was produced which had to be suitably packaged and then stored until, for the most toxic waste (< 5% of the total volume of the radioactive waste), it was sent, at the right time, to a reversible geological disposal centre. Some of it, the low-level or intermediate-level waste, which mainly contained short-lived radionuclides, was already stored in surface storage facilities in the French departments of Aube and Manche.

In 1979, management of long-lived radioactive waste was entrusted to a specialist agency created within the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

 In 1990, faced with opposition from certain groups to the burial of radioactive waste in their region, the Government issued a moratorium suspending site research work.  

 At the end of 1991, the Government promoted a specialised law, which, for the first time, organised a research programme on management of long-lived, high-level waste. In addition, it placed the agency responsible for management of waste, Andra, directly under its supervision.

On 31 December 1991, France therefore had a specific legislative framework with the  Law of 31 december 1991, known as the Bataille Law. The first Article states:

 "The management of long-lived, high-level radioactive waste must be done in line with the protection of nature, the environment and health, taking into consideration the rights of future generations.

One of the major innovations of the Bataille Law was to put Parliament at the forefront of the debate. Furthermore, the Law was innovative in the sense that it introduced, for the first time in the history of French nuclear power, the definition of three research focuses in the field of long-lived, high-level radioactive waste:

1.   research into solutions enabling the partitioning and transmutation of long-lived radioactive elements in this waste;

2.   study of the possibilities for reversible or irreversible disposal in deep geological formations, thanks in particular to the construction of underground laboratories;

3.   study of processes for long-term packaging and storage of this waste in surface installations.

These three focuses are intended to be simultaneous and complementary and the same financial resources are allocated to each one.

The Bataille Law defines the conditions for setting up and operating underground laboratories specifically for conducting the necessary research. The Law provides that, on each underground laboratory site, a local information and monitoring council (CLIS) shall be created.

The Bataille Law provides that the Government shall submit a report to the Parliament each year summarising research developments. The Parliament shall approach the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices (OPECST).

Finally, the Law provides that the research be assessed by an independent National Assessment Board made up of French and foreign experts. This Board shall draw up an annual report which is submitted to the Parliament and published.

The Board, known retrospectively as CNE1, published 11 annual reports between 1995 and 2005 and a general report in 2006, which summarises the fifteen years of research conducted within the framework of the Law.

 In 1998, CNE1 also produced a special report on the topic of  reversibility.

In 2006, after the fifteen-year period provided for by the Bataille Law, based in particular on the reports and opinions produced by CNE1, the Government sent Parliament a general research assessment report, accompanied by a draft law authorising the construction of a long-lived, high-level radioactive waste storage centre and establishing the system of easements and constraints relating to this centre (law of 28 june 2006).