An overview of French waste categories…

In France, radioactive waste is split into five categories according to the activity level and the life of the radioelements it contains. Almost all the total radioactivity and less than 5% of the volume are concentrated in the first two categories. They have been the subject of research under the Bataille Act of 30 December 1991. This research has led to a project looking at disposal in a deep geological repository on the border between Meuse and Haute-Marne, known as CIGEO. The decision about whether or not to construct a disposal facility of this kind is to be made by the French parliament in 2015-2016.

For the next two categories of low radioactivity, which represent around 84% of the volume of waste in the inventory, there is a clearly defined and well tested system of management. A disposal facility is being researched for the fifth category, low-level long-lived waste.


High-level waste
High-level waste, such as the vitrified waste from the spent fuel from reactors, requires many precautions to be taken because of the intensity of the radiation emitted. In France it is covered by the Bataille Act and is stored at the La Hague and Marcoule sites. There was 2700 m3 of this high-level waste in France according to the inventory prepared by ANDRA at the end of 2010.

High-level waste (HLW): High-level waste accounted for 96.05% of the total radioactivity of waste but only 0.2% of the volume of the national inventory. It is stored at the La Hague and Marcoule sites. The radioactive material is poured into a glass block inside a stainless steel container, except for some legacy waste which is not yet being conditioned.

Intermediate-level long-lived waste
According to the inventory drawn up by ANDRA at the end of 2010, approximately 40,000 m3 of intermediate-level long-lived waste has been accumulated since the start. In France this waste comes under laws passed in 1991 (Bataille Act) and 2006 because of its long life. Although its activity level is only intermediate, it needs long-term management.

Intermediate-level long-lived waste (ILW-LL): This waste accounts for 3.87% of the total radioactivity of waste and 4.6% of the volume of the national inventory. Most of it is stored at the La Hague and Marcoule sites. Only 36% of ILW-LL is conditioned. Most legacy waste put into storage in the past still needs to be retrieved and processed.CIGEO is designed for the definitive disposal of both types of waste in geological strata at a depth of 500 m. The dimensions of the facility will be important. The heat released by the high-level waste over a long period of time will be a particular factor determining these dimensions. The ILW-LL waste does not give off any heat.

Link to the presentation of the CIGEO project