When social sciences and radiochemistry look at the future of uranium mine sites ...

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The question of the future of uranium mine sites requires a multidisciplinary approach : from radiochemistry to sociology to geography. The Ecole des Mines de Nantes has set up an interdisciplinary research programme, bringing together earth sciences and social sciences. An approach which will in turn lead to the launching of a number of projects.

Nuclear science is not just about technology : it is about the way society manages long-lived nuclear waste, and the natural radioisotopes generated by uranium extraction, thinking about the effects on the environment, and passing on the history of the sites.In other words,it looks at the subject from different view points, bringing in materials science (chemistry and hysics) as well as human and social science. This  "mutidisciplinary" approach opens up new  avenues of research, that offer a very promising outlook.

The department of Social Sciences and Management (SSG) and the SUBATECH Laboratory  (UMR 6457 – Université de Nantes – CNRS/IN2P3 – Mines Nantes) organised a one-day conference in February 2013 on the theme of  "Time, techniques and uranium". This gave rise to the publication by the Presses des Mines ("Nuclear waste through the prism of time"). Since then, the SSG,  the réseau Becquerel ( du CNRS- IN2P3 and SUBATECH have worked together on this collaboration. A research programme called "Effects, transfer and heritage" was launched. «The idea is to bring together different disciplines to work on one project : analyse the long-term effects of uranium, analyse the transfer into the environment and analyse the area in terms of heritageexplained Sophie Bretesché, sociologist in the  SSG.

What should happen to these sites in the long term ? Should they be protected? Should they be given back to the public, and if so, under what conditions ? In an attempt to address these questions, the team behind "Effects, transfer and heritage" are going to look at a uranium mine run by AREVA in the Loire region, from a global perspective, focussing on the impact of "waste rock piles" (material  rich in uranium  but not exploited) from uranium mining, in the  long term.

The Ecole des Mines and the  BRGM were given a Carnot grant of 300,000 euros over two years for this project. Thanks to Pollusol, a regional initiative working on contamiated sites  and organised by the ’Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers Nantes Atlantique, the project will be further extended.



"A new way of doing science"


The project is part of the Workshop Zone « Uranium deposits in  hercynian bed rock » which brings together around ten different partners. The engineering students at the Ecole des Mines are also involved : this will take the form of an  "integrated project", as part of their coursework. In addition, AREVA is backing the programme through the co-financing  of a sociology thesis on   « Environment standards ». « The project was set up with a view to providing a decision-making tool, to help classify the sites. This means looking at both the past and the future, combining modelling and heritage management, » explains Patrick Chardon, from the  réseau Becquerel.

The objective is to design a mapping tool like the GIS (Geographic information system)  to make a model of the development of the site, from both the materials science standpoint, and the point of view of human and social sciences (urban planning, economy, sociology...) and over a very long time scale. This will enable us to assess the various scenarios possible for the site. «As well as societal issues, the work will allow us to develop new knowledge and work on scientific challenges » explains Gilles Montavon, director of research at SUBATECH. This means establishing a tight network of specialists drawn from different disciplines - geographers, chemists, sociologistss, radiochemists, etc. "It is another way, a more productive way, of doing science", resumes Sophie Bretesché.

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