French repository costs disputed

12 January 2016

There is disagreement between France's radioactive waste generators and the country's radioactive waste management agency on the cost of building and operating a national repository for the disposal of high- and intermediate-level waste. The French energy minister must now decide a 'reference cost'.

Cigeo vision (Andra) 460x298
Cigeo's underground operations will ultimately occupy 15 km2 (Image: Andra)

France plans to construct the Centre Industriel de Stockage Géologique (Cigéo) repository - an underground system of disposal tunnels - in a natural layer of clay near Bure, to the east of Paris 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 (CEA) - and 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.

In 2005, Andra estimated the cost of the facility at between €13.5 and €16.5 billion ($14.6 and $17.9 billion). However, in 2009 it re-estimated the cost at around €36 billion ($39 billion).

In a confidential file submitted to the Ministry of Ecology in October 2014 - the contents of which have now been made public - Andra gave a revised cost estimate for Cigéo of €34.4 billion, based on 2012 prices. This estimate includes €19.8 billion for the facility's construction, €8.8 billion for operational costs over 100 years, €4.1 billion in taxes and €1.7 billion in miscellaneous expenses.

Andra noted, "The evaluation of these costs is a particularly delicate exercise because it requires making assumptions on labour costs, taxation, materials or energy for more than 100 years."

However, EDF, Areva and the CEA maintain that the cost of Cigéo will only be around €20 billion.

In a joint statement, the waste producers said yesterday that the development and construction of the repository will take place over its entire operating life. During this time, they say, "optimizations and innovations" - some of which have already been identified - will be employed which will affect the cost of the project.

Areva, EDF and CEA say they are already holding discussions with Andra on reaching agreement on technical and economic issues that could affect the cost of Cigéo. "These optimizations are being studied by Andra with the aim to implement them throughout the different phases of the storage facility construction, without reducing the level of safety and security," they said.

In a statement, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité De Sûreté Nucléaire, ASN) says an update of the reference cost is "imperative and urgent". According to ASN, Andra's latest estimate shows that "certain assumptions made by Andra, technical and economic, are too optimistic." It suggests it is essential to provide a mechanism for regularly updating the reference cost, "particularly at key stages of project development".

In an article in Le Monde, ASN director general Jean-Christophe Niel claims Andra has actually underestimated the price. He claims that Andra's technical and economic hypotheses are too optimistic. Niel even suggests that the volume of waste to be disposed of in Cigéo might be higher than forecast, especially if France were to stop reprocessing its used fuel.

It is now up to energy minister Ségolène Royal to decide, by decree, what the 'reference cost' will be for the facility.

Andra is scheduled to submit the safety and retrievability options report for the Cigéo repository to ASN later this year. Detailed design studies are expected to take place over the next two years.

The waste producers say the submission of the safety report and the start of detailed design studies "constitute key milestones for configuring the Cigéo project and for its costing".

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News