France to test deep burial of nuclear wastes

Government decides on two underground "laboratories," pledges new regulatory authority

France is to build two underground "laboratories" to test the concept of deep burial of nuclear wastes, it was announced last night following four hours of inter-ministerial talks involving prime minister Lionel Jospin. Environment minister Dominique Voynet, who supports surface storage of nuclear waste, emerged saying she had felt out of place "all of the time". The government has promised that the new laboratories will respect the principle of "reversibility," meaning that wastes should be capable of being removed at any time. But environmental group Greenpeace is sceptical that reversibility can be guaranteed. "We are very critical of this announcement and we see it as a serious victory for the pro-nuclear lobby," Jean-Luc Thierry of Greenpeace France told ENDS Daily. "The guarantees of reversibility are just not there," he added. Under a separate decision announced last night, the government is to set up an independent nuclear control authority. The new body will have regulatory powers and will be able to sanction power station operators who do not come up to scratch. A formal legislative proposal will be put forward early next year. But Greenpeace has already expressed scepticism over just how independent the new body will really be. "The head of the authority will be chosen by the environment minister and approved by a parliament made up of a majority of pro-nuclear parliamentarians," complained Mr Thierry. France relies on nuclear energy to produce around 80% of its electricity.

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