Constitutional Council Upholds Future Generations’ Rights in Cigéo Project

Seized by opponents of the Cigéo geological nuclear waste storage project, the Constitutional Council has determined that the legislator must always take into account the rights of future generations and not burden them with the consequences of current decisions. And it has been decided that Cigéo fully respects these principles.

For 20 years, the Cigéo project for deep geological layer disposal of high-activity, long-lived waste, led by Andra, has been advancing by overcoming many obstacles. The latest was at the Constitutional Council. It was presented with a priority question of constitutionality by opponents who argued that the non-reversibility of storage beyond 100 years did not respect the rights of future generations. However, the Wise Ones consider that, precisely, the Cigéo project, in its approach and provisions, is perfectly compatible with this respect for rights.

In its preamble, the Constitutional Council emphasizes that “when the legislator adopts measures that could cause serious and lasting harm to the environment, it must ensure that the choices intended to meet current needs do not compromise the ability of future generations and other peoples to meet their own needs while preserving their freedom of choice in this regard.”

It further specifies that, according to Article 1 of the Charter for the Environment, “Everyone has the right to live in an environment that is balanced and respectful of health.” It adds that the seventh paragraph of the preamble of the Charter for the Environment stipulates: “To ensure sustainable development, the choices made to meet present needs must not compromise the ability of future generations and other peoples to satisfy their own needs.”

Not to postpone the management of the burden

Armed with these prerequisites, the Republic’s Sages observe: “It emerges from the preparatory work that, in adopting them, the legislator wished, on the one hand, for radioactive waste to be stored under conditions that protect the environment and health against the long-term risks of radioactive substance dissemination and, on the other hand, that the burden of managing this waste not be passed on to future generations alone.”

Further on, it adds: “The deep geological storage of such waste must guarantee the ability, for successive generations, either to continue the construction and then the operation of the successive sections of the storage or to reassess previously defined choices and to evolve management solutions. This reversibility is implemented through the gradual construction, the adaptability of the design, and the operational flexibility of the storage, and includes the possibility of retrieving already stored waste packages according to modalities and for a duration coherent with the strategy of operation and closure of the storage.”

It is also noted that “the authorization to start operation is limited to a pilot phase which must reinforce the reversible nature and the safety demonstration of the installation, in particular through a program of in situ tests. All waste packages must remain easily recoverable during this phase, which includes recovery trials.”

Provisions that respect the rights of future generations

Thus, the Constitutional Council determined in its decision of October 27, 2023, that “given these guarantees, the contested provisions do not violate the requirements of article 1 of the Charter for the Environment as interpreted in light of the seventh paragraph of its preamble. It therefore declares them in conformity with the Constitution.”

This conclusion reinforces the relevance of the Cigéo project, which received its declaration of public utility in July 2022. Since July 22, 2023, its application for creation authorization (DAC) has been under review by the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN). The acquisition of the DAC would allow for the construction of Cigéo to start around 2027 for its first part. Then, other procedures would have to be initiated for the successive stages of the project. The operation of the storage site would be completed by 2150. ■

By Ludovic Dupin (Sfen)

Photo: Andra’s underground laboratory in the Meuse – @Andra