Alsatian poisonous time bomb, Véronique Parasoté (Le Monde Diplomatique

French-developed robotic dog at ANDRA’s Bure nuclear waste storage facility in May 2021.

Jean-Christophe Verhaegen AFP Getty

Men In the 1990s, the planned closure of a potash mine in Alsace gave rise to the idea of ​​storing hazardous waste in galleries dug into salt rock about 550 meters deep, below the town of Wittelsheim near Mulhouse. “At the time, it was necessary to reuse the mining site,” says Frédéric his Mr. Biery, current head of the European Community of Alsace, the administrative region created by the merger of the departments of Hautran and Balans.

In 1997, the governor of the Haut-Rhin department ordered StocaMine, a now-defunct subsidiary of the public company Mines de Potasse d’Alsace (MDPA), to build a non-radioactive, solid “underground reversible industrial waste repository”. I gave you the power to manage. Inert and non-flammable. This authorization allowed for his 320,000-ton burial at the Joseph Else mine. Between 1999 and his 2002, 44,000 tons of waste were progressively stored in dedicated gallery blocks. “The government has promised to keep storage tightly controlled and reversible until future technologies are developed that will allow the processing of these materials,” said Alsace. Jean Rottner, president of the Grand Est region to which he belongs, says:

But then, between September 10 and November 21, 2002, Block 15, containing 1,775 tons of waste, caught fire, poisoning 76 employees. A fire interrupted the burial of the waste and it was abandoned the following year. A forensic investigation found that potentially pyrophoric material was buried in the strength of the incomplete identification sheet.[ed] Desire to accept substances of organic origin and manure residues from the company Solupack at any price. The foreman was violating safety requirements by ignoring warnings from staff, lieutenants, and labor inspectors. On April 15, 2009, he was found guilty on appeal for “endangering others.”

A ticking time bomb lies beneath the water table of Europe’s largest river, the Rhine, troubling residents of Alsace and its neighbors in Switzerland and Germany. François Zand, a lawyer for the Alsace Nature Conservancy, said: “Official estimates include 26 tons of mercury, 1,747 tons of arsenic, 33 tons of cadmium, 32 tons of chromium, 250 tons of lead and 100 tons of antimony. “There are.” [stored in the mine]50 contaminants have been identified, most of which are soluble in water and salt water.

The state has failed to keep its promise that hazardous waste storage can be reversed. Even when identified as hazardous, the waste remains buried deep, but urgent action is required to retrieve it. Galleries dug in Kali have a natural tendency to shrink, and reports say that from 2027 he becomes inaccessible at some point between 2029 and collapses after a few years. Subsequently, progressive flooding could dissolve soluble materials and carry contaminated brine to the water table 500m above, according to the French Geological Survey Agency (BRGM). (1).

The government, which was heavily criticized in 2014 for inaction by the General Accounting Office, produced multiple expert reports and promoted its preferred solution of on-site containment in concrete enclosures. Following amendments proposed by Michel Sordi, member of parliament for the Haut-Rhin department, the environmental legislation was amended in his 2004, two years after the fire. Afterwards, “if the dumping of waste had been stopped more than a year before,” he could store dangerous goods underground indefinitely.

Under pressure from all quarters of the public and politicians, the government agreed to extract the most toxic waste. 95% of mercury removed between 2015 and 2017. Of the remaining 42,000 tonnes of waste, 25% is still melted, although a number of reports noted that “there is a risk to the drinking water supply, the only standard the state is considering.” , and because almost all of this waste is an endocrine disruptor, it can affect entire food chains leading to surface waters,” says Zind.

According to BRGM, the cost of the project has been an annual cost of €5 million since 2002, plus depends on what interventions have taken place prior to containment. €246-307 million for removal of soluble waste only. €379 million to €440 million for removal of all waste. The government argues that these last two of his scenarios are too costly and too dangerous, and still favors permanent containment of the remaining waste. Biery objects to this: “A similar situation occurred in Lower Saxony, which eventually forced the German government to urgently remove everything, at a cost of 2 billion euros. The water level rises. If we do, there are no long-term guarantees, and we are talking here about including subsoil in the seismic fault line, which is not acting responsibly for future generations.

The state is competing with the law. Alsace Nature and the local authorities appeared before the administrative appeals court in Nancy to revoke the decree on October 15, 2021, on the grounds that there was essentially no financial security, and to start the containment work that was due to begin that day. blocked. But an amendment quietly passed in parliament a month later allowed the state to give financial guarantees to her MDPA, again approving “indefinite” containment. On December 28, the Constitutional Council condemned the action, calling it a “non-financial legislative provision.”

On 28 January 2022, the governor of Haut-Rhin issued a further order allowing work to resume, paving the way for a new permit application after a public inquiry. Rottner is disappointed with the government’s hardline stance. “Local authorities have been trying to talk to them for years. It makes me wonder if there is.”

A visit in January 2021 by Barbara Pompili, Minister for Environmental Transition, raised hopes that discussions could begin. “We warned her of a clear future risk. A month later, the government confirmed their desire to contain the site as is. says Stéphane Giraud, director of Alsace Nature. In addition to many French and European experts calling for waste removal, some miners now say there is still time to intervene. People’s trust in the government’s word has also been jeopardized, as the government initially promised to store the waste reversibly. Alsatian poisonous time bomb, Véronique Parasoté (Le Monde Diplomatique

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