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A fresh perspective on nuclear waste management

Technical uncertainties and continuing societal concerns over nuclear energy technologies are key challenges impacting on the management of radioactive waste. An EU-funded project tackles this intricate science-policy issue.

Society
Energy

Despite decades of sustained research efforts across the world, no geological repository currently accepts commercial spent nuclear fuel or highly radioactive waste. Experts argue that this stems from a lack of public acceptance of their proposed technical solutions. However, efforts to site geological repositories have also encountered many technical challenges. Simultaneously, there is a growing consensus about the importance of building and maintaining public trust in nuclear waste disposal programmes.

Providing a new outlook

The ENTRUST project, undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme, developed a new approach to nuclear waste management (NWM), a science-policy framework. François Diaz Maurin, Principal Investigator, explains: “To design more effective NWM and disposal strategies, an analytical framework that considers both their technical aspects and associated societal dimensions needed to be developed.” This framework requires a description of the entire back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, including all its relevant technical and societal aspects. To achieve this, the ENTRUST project was designed around three scientific objectives. As Diaz-Maurin explains, “theoretically, I sought to use a blend of other research fields to define epistemological principles and concepts for the study of nuclear waste geological disposal systems.” Next, he methodologically envisioned the development of an analytical framework for the holistic assessment of waste disposal strategies with the objective of building and maintaining public trust. “Finally, I empirically sought to contribute useful insights to the academic literature and the societal debate about geological disposal by putting into practice the analytical framework.”

Making great strides

The ENTRUST project resulted in several scientific publications and collaborations with NWM organisations and laboratories in the EU and the United States focused on transferring research innovations into their research and development programmes. During the project, Diaz-Maurin designed a new theoretical approach to the integration of nuclear waste systems. “For this, I first developed a conceptual formalism of nuclear waste geological disposal systems based on a multiscale, integrated analysis approach.” With the support of his research team, Diaz Maurin also designed and developed several analytical tools that support the integrated assessment of NWM strategies. “These tools consisted of a socio technical, multi-criteria evaluation framework and method for the comparison of long-term spent nuclear fuel storage options.” Furthermore, a multi-criteria evaluation tool to compare disposal strategies in different geological settings was created. The project’s developments have been part of recent efforts toward the integration of the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The back-end integration accounts for the various processes of NWM, such as onsite storage, transport and geological disposal.

Progress beyond the project

“Now that the project has finished, I will continue working with NWM organisations and laboratories in EU countries and in the United States. I also intend to use and improve the methods developed during this project to support communities involved in nuclear waste issues, including spent nuclear fuel storage and transport, and radioactive waste geological disposal,” concludes Diaz Maurin.

Keywords

ENTRUST, NWM, analytical framework, waste disposal, storage, public trust, nuclear fuel cycle, geological repository, nuclear waste management

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