The Champagne region is embroiled in a legal battle to prevent the French national atomic agency ANDRA from dumping nuclear waste near its vineyards.
According to French press reports, the CIVC - Champagne’s trade association – has asked the administrative court in Châlons-en-Champagne to cancel permission granted to ANDRA in August 2006 to continue storing low level radioactive waste at its facility in Soulaines. The site is located within 9km of Champagne’s Côte des Bars.
This followed ANDRA’s admission earlier the same month of a leak at the facility, for which it received authorisation to repair.
At the time, while there was no evidence that the Soulaines dump posed a specific threat to the vineyards of Champagne, Greenpeace released a report showing that low levels of radioactivity from an ANDRA site in Normandy had seeped into groundwater used by farmers.
The CIVC told Decanter.com that it could not comment on the current court case or what it has been doing to address the issue since 2006.
However anti-nuclear activists and at least one French wine blogger speculate that the CIVC has been reluctant to act, preferring instead to distance itself from the issue lest it harm relations with local politicians or its own public image.
‘In my opinion, the CIVC finds itself in a difficult position because its members do not want to harm long-held ties with local politicians,’ said Nadine Schneider, a spokesperson for Sortir du Nucléaire – France’s largest anti-nuclear coalition.
‘We are not talking about revolutionaries here – they are not leftist, but rightist. They do not normally get involved in this kind of activity. Their interest is in economy, not ecology.’
Schneider noted that the CIVC represents some of the biggest brand names in the world, who would likely be uncomfortable being associated with anti-nuclear activists.
In support of its current appeal, the CIVC contends that the site poses a risk of pollution – while ANDRA maintains that there is no risk due to the facility’s location downstream from the appellation. The court is expected to return a decision within a few days.
Written by Maggie Rosen