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Co-funded European partnership on radioactive waste management

 

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Introduction

The first European Joint Programme on Radioactive Waste Management (EURAD) will end in May 2024 and has delivered substantial results over the past 5 years. The detailed roadmap drawn up by EURAD enables waste management organisations and other stakeholders to access existing knowledge and ongoing work or future plans in EURAD and elsewhere. The content is focused on what knowledge and competencies (including infrastructure) are considered most critical for the implementation of radioactive waste management.

While the Finnish and Swedish national programmes focus on the construction and operational phases of their respective geological disposal repositories, other Member States are yet to define/implement their national programmes for spent fuel and radioactive waste management. The challenges in this field for the next decade include:

  • Build on the structure, network and tools that EURAD has established to maintain a sound and efficient knowledge management system. This ensures that information and competences are retained over time, and promotes knowledge transfer and the sharing of best practices between the advanced Member States and those at an early stage.
  • Improve, innovate and develop science and technology for the management and disposal of radioactive waste and address the different radioactive waste streams when appropriate.
  • Consolidate the knowledge for a safe start to operating the first geological disposal facilities and support all Member States’ national programmes in line with the requirements under Directive 2011/70/Euratom and Commission report COM(2017) 236.
  • Provide input to the next set of Member States with mature site selection programmes, and thus with construction and operation in sight, in order to promote broadly accepted industrialisation of nuclear waste disposal in the EU.

In view of the shared goals and clear scope for synergies in this field, the Commission invites the radioactive waste management community to submit a proposal for a co-funded European partnership on radioactive waste management for 5 years (2024-29)[[ Subject to adoption by the Council of a Regulation establishing the Euratom Research and Training Programme 2026-2027, and adoption of the Euratom Work Programme 2026-2027, the Commission envisages providing top-up funding to the partnership, which will be determined later.]] (EURAD-2). The proposal should take into account the recommendations of the mid-term expert review of the ongoing EURAD.

Additionally, EURAD-2 needs to be more inclusive and reach out to the Member States that did not participate in EURAD, as the scope of the partnership covers all Member States with radioactive waste inventories and is not limited to nuclear power generating countries. Actors representing new topics will also be needed. Participating Member States and Associated Countries will need to formally designate the mandated actors accordingly that will be able to be part of EURAD-2.

To make the future partnership comprehensive, EURAD-2 will also have to reach out to the regulatory bodies in order to establish regular interactions with them without compromising their independence. In addition to the regulators, the partnership should reach out to the waste owners/generators/processors when relevant, in particular on topics related to predisposal activities.

Expected impacts

The European partnership on radioactive waste management should set out a credible pathway to contributing to all of the following impacts[[ In 2018, as part of the JOPRAD project and in preparation of the EURAD programme, a Vision was established explaining how the European Joint Programme will impact radioactive waste management in Europe. This Vision is still valid today and the second partnership, EURAD-2, will build up on the strategic expected impacts of EURAD.]]:

  1. Support compliance with European Directives;
  2. Support the long-term passive safety features of radioactive waste disposal facilities/repositories;
  3. Help build or maintain public confidence and awareness in radioactive waste management;
  4. Support radioactive waste management innovation and optimisation;
  5. Contribute to addressing scientific/technical challenges;
  6. Contribute to addressing the evolving regulatory concerns;
  7. Boost knowledge transfer to early-stage programmes;
  8. Encourage the efficient use of R&D resources at EU level;
  9. Encourage a better transfer of knowledge across generations of experts and between experts from different fields of expertise.

While EURAD’s expected impacts are similar to the ones listed above, the new partnership will build on the lessons learned from it. In particular, it will focus on making the established knowledge management system on radioactive waste management more efficient and robust, which in return will help achieve impacts 3, 7 and 9. Strategic issues are addressed by bringing together implementers, the R&D scientific technical community, technical support organisations, waste generators, regulators and civil society, all through their different roles as mandated actors or as end-user group members. As pointed out by the experts in charge of the mid-term review and during the workshop that took place on 30 May 2022 in the presence of Member State and Associated Country representatives, a global funding rate of 60% is strongly recommended so that knowledge management and strategic study work packages can be funded at 100% (against 70% in EURAD) without compromising the funding rate of R&D work packages (50%). Moreover, the inclusion of the predisposal activities in the partnership will also enlarge the scope of the expected impacts. Such inclusion should encourage early consideration of interdependences between the various management steps and ensure that we focus on the conformity of the waste in terms of waste acceptance criteria and disposability.

Expected outcomes

In line with the objectives of Directive 2011/70/Euratom, this COFUND action should support, within the next decade and across Europe, the safe start of operations of the first geological disposal facilities. It should also pave the way for more Member States to reach the stage of site selection and implementation, and make geological disposal a more broadly applied activity. Implementation of the action should result in greater cross-fertilisation and interaction between national programmes in key areas of general interest, improved knowledge management and transfer between actors. In particular, the European partnership is a unique opportunity for less advanced programmes to benefit from the integration process in the area of radioactive waste management.

The partnership results are expected to contribute to all of the following outcomes, linked to the impacts described above:

  1. Support the definition and implementation of a radioactive waste management research programme in the Member States by developing competences and solutions for their radioactive waste (see Waste Directive Articles 8 and 12.1(f)).
  2. Deliver science and technology-based, socially robust solutions for the safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste in Europe, building among other things on the lessons learned during the safe implementation of the first geological disposal facilities for high-level and long-lived radioactive waste/spent nuclear fuel as well as improving, innovating and developing science and technology for the management and disposal of other radioactive waste categories.
  3. Share and develop best practices and methodologies in all matters related to radioactive waste management – from generation to disposal – improve operational excellence and minimise operational, dismantling and induced secondary waste.
  4. Improve the safe management of radioactive waste from generation to final disposal. An integrated approach to waste management would for instance address the different steps from start to finish and identify the needs and prerequisites for waste disposal from when the waste is generated. Applying such an approach would help target the key technological obstacles and improve the safe management of waste. In particular, it would help evaluate the potential impacts of advanced fuel types and deployment of innovative types of reactors on waste management strategies.
  5. Develop elements for a strategy for predisposal operations (including treatment solutions and interim storage) and the disposal of challenging radioactive waste streams.
  6. Establish an inclusive collaborative framework that feeds and keeps up to date the EURAD roadmap, enabling users to access existing information and knowledge and active work or future plans related to all phases of a radioactive waste management programme. Ultimately, the partnership should provide an opportunity for less advanced radioactive waste management national programmes, and in particular those in an early stage of geological disposal programme implementation, to benefit from cross-European integration in radioactive waste management.
  7. Consolidate knowledge transfer between Member States and across generations by providing a platform and network for training, mobility and available facilities in radioactive waste management. This allows existing knowledge, facilities and infrastructure to be shared rather than repeating and duplicating efforts. Knowledge management should allow the scientific technical community to conclude that from a scientific-technical point of view, processes are sufficiently well known for judging potential system evolutions with a high degree of certainty (and therefore promote the technical readiness for licensing). Furthermore, a thorough reflection should be launched on creating, at European level, a sustainable network of labs that could be used by all European partners in support of their programme needs.
  8. Promote public debate and interactions with civil society to increase public confidence in the national radioactive waste management programmes by encouraging transparency, credibility and scientific excellence (see Article 10 of the Radioactive Waste Directive).

Scope

The aim is to implement a follow-up partnership, EURAD-2, in the safe management and disposal of radioactive waste. It will bring together a broad range of parties with scientific and technical responsibilities and a national mandate for research in radioactive waste management that are willing to pool resources in order to improve critical mass, efficiency and effectiveness in implementing solutions across Europe.

Mandated actors include: (i) waste management organisations tasked with managing and disposing of radioactive waste and represented by the Implementing Geological Disposal Technology Platform; (ii) technical support organisations that carry out activities to provide the technical and scientific basis for supporting the decisions made by a national regulatory body and are represented by the Sustainable network for independent technical expertise on radioactive waste management (SITEX); and (iii) nationally funded research entities involved in the R&D of radioactive waste management that established EURADSCIENCE during the European Joint Programme.

As with EURAD, the three colleges should continue to work together to pursue their shared interests while insuring their independence. Additionally, EURAD-2 should involve more the regulatory bodies from the Member States (potentially the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group) who are potential end users. An end user group and its roles should be clearly defined. In addition to the regulatory bodies, industrial stakeholders such as waste generators should also be consulted as potential end users.

The proposed partnership should follow on from the development work carried out by EURAD, with extensive consultation of Member States’ national programmes and the research community. The EURAD roadmap[[ https://www.ejp-eurad.eu/roadmap]] should form the basis for defining EURAD-2. It covers seven key themes in radioactive waste management over the six different phases of a radioactive waste management programme (as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency). EURAD has identified the priorities related to each and the key challenges that should be addressed.

The partnership should be goal-driven, with clear and agreed high-level milestones in order to easily monitor progress. Its scope should include all scientific and technical areas and all horizontal activities related to knowledge management covered in the roadmap drawn up by EURAD (to which the PREDIS (pre-disposal management of radioactive waste) project has also contributed). The roadmap should enable joint research activities in management domains (including predisposal, which was covered by PREDIS during the European Joint Programme) and disposal of radioactive waste as laid down in Directive 2011/70/Euratom.

Work packages should be proposed with specific projects covering the scientific and technical priorities identified in the roadmap. The selection process of these packages should benefit from the experience of EURAD and should involve the mandated actors mentioned above.

Projects should cover areas of interest for small and large, advanced and less advanced waste management programmes. They should be defined by technical scope and should not be reserved for just one type of participant. Similar to what was done during the first EURAD, appropriate internal governance should be established in the consortium agreement and include a programme office, to which staff from the partners can be seconded on a full-time basis. The programme office should have a strategic role in ensuring implementation of the co-funded partnership as well as managing day-to-day activities.

An appropriate means of allocating project tasks and funding among the partners should be established on a yearly basis and take into account emerging science and technology as well as Euratom research priorities. This action aims to establish the partnership, and open calls for proposals for third party grants are not necessary. The partnership should cover all related activities: common research and strategic studies, the sharing of facilities, knowledge management, and the mobility and training of researchers. The management structure will ensure that the project ‘owners’ (the three types of mandated actors) drive the strategy. The involvement of external stakeholder groups should be incorporated into the governance mechanism, for example to enable civil society organisations to advise and comment on activities.

To maximise knowledge management and especially the impact on smaller and less advanced national programmes, horizontal activities should be prioritised, including (i) the development of state-of-the-art documentation (e.g. textbooks), guidance documents for planning and implementing research; (ii) organisation of training courses, as appropriate, with European forums and activities on education and international organisations; (iii) hands-on training via mobility measures; and (iv) financial support for access to infrastructures. In addition, the partnership should be open to international R&D cooperation, and managers would be expected to represent it in areas of competence at international events and on forums.

Total indicative budget for the duration of the partnership and co-financing rate: the table below provides an overview of the 2023-2025 appropriations that will be committed for the co-fund grant to support the European partnership. EUR 20 million will be committed in instalments over the 3 years (2023-2025). The Euratom funding rate will be limited to a maximum of 60% of the total eligible costs of the action.

Budget year (EUR million)

2023

2024

2025

Total 2023-25

Co-funded European partnership for radioactive waste management research EURAD-2

10.59

6.88

2.53

20

Commitments of the partners in terms of their financial and/or in-kind contributions are expected to be provided for the governance structure, the joint calls and other dedicated implementation actions and efforts for national coordination. Proposals should pool the necessary financial resources from the participating national (or regional) research programmes with a view to implementing joint calls for transnational proposals that result in grants to third parties.

The following specific conditions apply to the co-funded European partnership for radioactive waste Management research:

The general conditions, including admissibility conditions, eligibility conditions, award criteria, the evaluation and award procedure, the legal and financial set-up for grants, financial and operational capacity and exclusion are provided in Parts A to G of the General Annexes. The specific conditions are as follows:

  • Beneficiaries may provide financial support to third parties. The maximum amount to be granted to each third party is EUR 300 000. Financial support provided by the participants to third parties to implement joint research activities in the domains of management and disposal of radioactive waste as defined in Directive 2011/70/Euratom is one of the primary activities of the action in order to be able to achieve its objectives.
  • The starting date of grants awarded under this topic may be retroactive provided that the applicant can demonstrate the need for starting the action prior to signing the grant agreement.