In 2018, the French National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (Andra) published a report testifying that 1,54 millions of cubic meters of radioactive waste or material were located all around the French territory. It is a spike of 85.000 m3 from the previous inventory that was conducted three years prior.
But what is even more worrisome is that the volume of radioactive waste could be largely underestimated. Indeed, radioactive waste, which represents radioactive substances for which there is no longer any possible use, is not considered the same thing as radioactive material, which could potentially be re-used in the future as a fuel for example. But to say that it could potentially be re-used does not mean that practical and effective strategies to do so will be adopted, let alone even being considered.
Today, depleted uranium is considered as a material and is not being re-used. So far, it has simply been stored in barrels, waiting for scientists to find what to do with it. The same applies to used MOX. We know for a fact that the only prospect of reusing MOX is through fast neutron reactors. Yet, past experiences have left little hope for their arrival on the French territory in the near future, since we neither have the technology nor the adequate funds that they require.
Superphénix was the first project of a fast neutron reactor to be developed in France. It was supposed to “eat” all the depleted uranium that was not being used by the nuclear power stations, as well as MOX and plutonium. Yet, Superphénix has failed. Today, the CEA (Office of the Commissioner for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies) is supervising a new project of fast neutron reactor called Astrid. However, researchers are faced with various pecuniary challenges. Indeed, while the project was launched in 2010 and initially scheduled to be commissioned in 2020, it was finally postponed to 2039. In other words, it is turning into a financial black hole. Times are critical, and it is essential for the state to confront the harsh reality of waste mismanagement. This starts by putting the energy transition at the forefront of its agenda in order to find sustainable solutions to secure energy supply without leaving its population vulnerable to the detrimental risks of radioactive waste.