Hulot’s anti-nuclear credentials called into question as protest turns violent

A protest against the Bure nuclear waste burial site, February 2017. [Infoletta Hambach/Flickr]

Violence erupted on Tuesday  (15 August)  at a demonstration against French plans for a radioactive waste burial site in the north-eastern town of Bure.  Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot,  once a vocal opponent of the project, has refused to take sides.  EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France reports.

Six people were “seriously injured” on Tuesday as demonstrators clashed with police in Bure. Around 30 others suffered minor injuries as a result of tear gas and flash grenades,  according to the organisers of the demonstration.

Local authorities said two gendarmes were injured by a “homemade explosive thrown by demonstrators”.

The proposed underground radioactive waste dump, known as Cigéo, is the object of a bitter legal battle between France’s radioactive waste management agency (Andra) and its opponents.

Cigéo would house some 99% of the radioactivity generated by France’s nuclear power plants over several decades. A system of tunnels and galleries in a natural clay bed 500 metres underground would contain more than 40,000 cubic metres of long-lived intermediate and high-level radioactive waste.

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Opponents of the project scored a victory in early August when the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) voiced “reservations” over the project, particularly concerning “uncertainties” over the behaviour of highly flammable materials in high temperatures.

Hulot on the fence

Activists have been disappointed by the response from new Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot. Since his arrival in the government, Hulot has sat on the fence on the Cigéo project, saying he needs more time to study the project.

But a photo of the minister from October 2016 – before he joined the government – shows him holding a sign saying “I say no to Cigéo”.

Nuclear power accounts for three-quarters of all electricity production in France, but the government recently promised to reduce this to 50% by 2025. France still sees nuclear power as central to its pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

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