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Commission recommends measures for radioactive waste management

Processes and techniques used in the management of all categories of radioactive waste have been developed to a point where they can be applied on the industrial scale, according to the European Commission in its fourth report on the situation of radioactive waste management i...
Processes and techniques used in the management of all categories of radioactive waste have been developed to a point where they can be applied on the industrial scale, according to the European Commission in its fourth report on the situation of radioactive waste management in the 15 Member States of the European Union (EU).

The only aspect yet to be put into practice is the deep disposal of high-level, heat-generating waste, which has been delayed in some Member States because of difficulties in licensing and problems of public perception.

Full decommissioning of nuclear installations is feasible and has been demonstrated in large-scale pilot dismantling projects, said the report

The annual production of all radioactive waste in the EU is approximately 50,000m³, which represents a dramatic reduction compared with figures presented in the previous report, in which values of 80,000m³/year were being predicted for the EU (not taking into account radioactive waste in Austria, Finland and Sweden, which were not Member States at that time). The reduction is attributed to:

- Construction of new power plants has all but halted (the exception being France);
- A number of older plants have been closed down definitively;
- Nuclear power plant operators have made tremendous efforts to reduce waste production at source;
- Advanced waste volume reduction techniques are being applied.

All Member States with a nuclear power plant programme have been practising radioactive waste disposal. Up to the end of 1994, a total of 1,640,000m³ had been disposed of, either by ocean disposal (until 1982), by surface and shallow disposal, or by deep geological disposal. However, long-lived heat-generating waste is being stored on the surface until deep facilities for their disposal become available. A number of Member States are involved in preparatory work for disposal of this type of waste, such as operating underground laboratories, seeking sites or preparing licensing.

The main recommendations are:

- Member States should continue their activities concerning the siting, construction, operation and closure of high-level waste repositories in deep clay, granite or salt formations. One of the main problems is the lack of acceptance by the public for any specific site in their neighbourhood. A better programme of public information may help to overcome this lack of acceptance;
- National safety authorities should be included in preparatory work prior to requests for licensing of deep geological repositories, and co-operation between the safety authorities of the Member States should be actively encouraged;
- Member States should continue their efforts to reduce the volume of radioactive waste from all nuclear applications, both through measures to reduce volumes at source and by application of advanced waste volume reduction techniques;
- It is important to achieve a common set of rules at EU level for the clearance for the large quantities of declared radioactive waste that will eventually exhibit very low levels of residual radioactivity. The present situation, where some countries have clearance levels and others do not, with the resulting implications for the release and circulation of the material within the market, is not satisfactory;
- As in the strategy for non-radioactive waste, the EU should aim for self-sufficiency in radioactive waste disposal, even if transfer to countries outside the EU is not excluded in EU legislation. Countries with a large radioactive waste production certainly should be able to dispose of their waste on their own territory. The possibility of voluntary co-operation between Member States however should be kept open, where, for example, a regional approach to disposal could result in improved safety and environmental benefits;
- Research and development in radioactive waste management should continue to improve data, models, and concepts related to long-term safety of disposal of long-lived radioactive waste.

Subjects

Waste Management
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