IAEA reviews France’s planned geological repository

22 December 2016

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review team concluded on 20 December that the safety options for France's planned deep geological repository, Centre Industriel de Stockage Géologique (Cigéo), are "overall thorough".

France plans to construct Cigéo, an underground system of disposal tunnels for the disposal of high- and intermediate-level radioactive waste, in a natural layer of clay near Bure, in the Meuse/Haute Marne area. The facility is to be financed by radioactive waste generators - EDF, Areva and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission. It will be managed by waste management agency Andra. The application to regulators to construct Cigéo should be submitted in 2017, with construction itself starting in 2020. The pilot phase of disposal could start in 2025.

Andra has submitted a "safety options dossier" for the Cigéo project to the French regulator, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), which gives Andra the possibility of getting advice from ASN on the safety principles and approach in preparation for the licence application.

IAEA’s review, undertaken at the request of the ASN, was carried out against the relevant IAEA safety standards and proven international practice and experience. It focused on the strategy of research and development and knowledge acquisition, the approach for defining scenarios for operational and post-closure safety assessment. The review also addressed the approach for post-Fukushima actions. The IAEA team assessed the strategy of research and development of the project, as well as the methodology of development of scenarios for operational and long-term safety.

The IAEA review team leader, Jussi Heinonen, said there was reasonable assurance about the "robustness of the disposal concept and Andra's ability to develop a safety demonstration". However he added, "We identified a few additional post-closure scenarios and operational design aspects that Andra should consider to further strengthen the confidence in the safety assessment."

Heinonen said the team suggested improvements to Andra's research and development planning and monitoring programme development.

The IAEA team considered Andra's methodology for evaluating operational safety to be comprehensive and systematic. With regard to post-Fukushima actions, the team said Andra has used ASN specifications for the "stress tests" on nuclear installations as a guideline for integrating complementary safety assessments into the design of Cigéo. The team recommended Andra to consider "the use of filtration of exhaust air from the underground facility and evaluate the robustness of its design for the removal of high water ingress from tunnels/ramp sections". The team encouraged ASN, Andra and the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety to use the review of the dossier "as a basis to further precise the expectations for the licence application". 



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