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This case study was presented by Mr Stéphane Grit (Ministry of Industry), Mr Rémi Herment (former President of Meuse General Council), Mr François Dosé (former member of Meuse General Council, currently Member of French Parliament), Mr Jean-Marc Fleury (association of Meuse elected representatives against underground disposal), Mr Yves Le Bars (president of ANDRA), Mr Bertrand Pancher (President of Meuse General Council), Mr Robert Fernbach (Mayor of Houdelaincourt), and Mr Jack-Pierre Piguet (Director of ANDRA Bure Laboratory).

Following intense contestation around potential host sites, a law was issued in 1991 to define a national research policy which would prepare the long term management of French nuclear waste. Three research axes are to be investigated : 1. separation and transmutation; 2. geological repository; 3. long term storage. As regards the second axe, the law details the rules for the siting and operation of an underground laboratory which should precede any repository : consultation is required before any work is conducted; a local information committee needs to be set up on any site; in the process of information, elected delegates and local population need to participate. The bill also sets a legislative “rendez-vous” in 2006 to have the Parliament review the progress made in research and take new steps.

According to the law, Member of Parliament, Christian Bataille was appointed in 1993 to carry out a dialogue process with local authorities and representatives of business industry and social organizations in order to collect candidatures and explain the Underground Research Laboratory project. At the outcome four departments were pre-selected according to their geological characteristics : Gard in south France, Haute Marne and Meuse in east France for clay, Vienne in the West for granite. Following geological studies above ground and public inquiries, the East site (in the meantime Meuse and Haute-Marne sites were joined in one site) was approved while the search for a granite location failed in the absence of any local support.

In Meuse the members of the General Council voted unanimously to authorize applications by municipalities of the Département. As argued by the General Council, this was an unexpected opportunity for a severely de-populated area to develop its local economy. The decision was made under the significant reservation that disposal, if any, should be reversible. Despite the unanimous vote, it was recognized that the participation of citizens and NGOs should have been more extensive, taking into account also the fact that the project was not on the agenda during the preceding election campaign and couldn’t be discussed by political candidates at that time.

The Meuse Département (as well as the Haute-Marne) was granted with specific funding for the application. The purpose and justification of this grant remains an important matter for discussion. The rules and means of funding were unclear which raised suspicion of bribery from the implementer. Some view that there is nothing wrong with the fact that the siting of a laboratory is associated with economic effects for the hosting region. Others consider that the question of funding showed that the process as a whole was giving more emphasis to acceptance than to safety. In retrospect, local authorities consider that the expected development opportunities announced in 1993 were not met, and little investment was actually made in the region.

The monitoring of the process is essential to all local actors whatever their position. This is achieved mainly through the Comité Local d’Information et de Suivi (CLIS) where local elected authorities, local State administration and representatives of business industry, social and environmental organizations convene. Its role is to collect information, to raise questions in order to progress in the understanding and review of the project locally. Recent questions raised by the Committee are, for example : Should the disposal be at considerable depth in the earth? Should the disposal be reversible ? Is this an area of seismic activity? Would there be water in underground galleries ? In 2006, are those responsible for creating the disposal sites going to have all the elements of information at their fingertips to operate this? CLIS carries out a dialogue with the various actors in charge of the research programme, at first ANDRA, to get answers to these questions. There is discussion on the chairmanship of this Committee : in accordance with the 1991 law, the CLIS is under the responsibility of the Prefet, who appears to be representing the central State at the local level. Nonetheless, the monitoring achieved by the CLIS is considered an important guarantee for transparency. The General Council, member of the CLIS, as an elected local assembly, also intends to develop its own programme of information and expertise.

The setting up of a new management team in ANDRA from 1999 and the signature of a four-year contract with the Government which sets goals for the organisation also contribute to clarify responsibilities of the different national actors in the process.

Eventually, local people are concerned that the Meuse site in Bure remains the only Underground Research Laboratory (URL) in France and the implementation of the 1991 law is being delayed : because the Bure URL cannot be compared with another site, and the investigations are getting late, research activities are unlikely to provide definite results by 2006. In the local view, the 2006 deadline should be considered as a meeting point and a transient stage rather than as a final decision phase.


  Last update - February 2005
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