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Towards a harmonised application of the international regulatory framework in waste management and decommissioning

The objective of this action is to address benefits and advantages of providing solutions for obstacles to a common regulatory framework in waste management and decommissioning, providing a basis for improving harmonisation. This will support implementation of the requirements of a high level of nuclear safety and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste

The action should reinforce the activities of the European Joint Programme EURAD, PREDIS but also the SHARE project (StakeHolder-based Analysis of REsearch for Decommissioning, which will provide, by the end of 2021, a Strategic Research Agenda and an inclusive roadmap), including development and knowledge and competence transfer across Member States' national programmes. One of the lessons learned in decommissioning and waste management is that the efficiency of a technological development depends not only on the techniques used or an operator's ability but also on regulatory aspects, and other societal dimensions.

Application of international safety standards (e.g. IAEA) and EU directives (EC/Euratom) can vary from one country to another, as they are adapted to local considerations and national policies. Euratom directives set out minimum requirements that can be exceeded by the Member States. Different approaches create obstacles for collaboration at EU level on developing common waste treatment processes, conditioning and facilities. For example, differences in clearance levels could affect a full development of a circular economy in decommissioning and waste management.

Alignment and harmonisation based on EU standards would be advantageous, enabling an efficient comparison of the efficiency, the suitability as well as the limits of available techniques being used in similar conditions. In addition, a common regulatory basis will help to qualify the economic operators in the decommissioning sector on the common basis of an internationally shared assessment. This is important because the decommissioning market has an increasing international dimension.

Proposed actions should establish or clarify the possible benefit and value added of more aligned and harmonised rules and standards, as well as shared processing facilities between Member States. The starting point of this action would be from an R&D, safety, environmental, social, economic and efficiency point of view, and would also consider the necessary legal (incl. nuclear liability) aspects. All actors concerned, such as waste producers, technology developers, research entities, waste management agencies and regulators should contribute to:

  1. Establish an inventory of common waste and of radioactive materials that are potentially recyclable and could be simply reused, not only in present-day and future nuclear fuel cycles but also in non-power nuclear applications and outside the nuclear industry.
  2. Establish an inventory of available treatment processes (including bioprocesses) and facilities for treating radioactive materials and waste, including facilities under development.
  3. Based on the identification of Member States’ regulatory differences regarding clearance and waste acceptance criteria, identify opportunities would enhance common sharing of experiences to building citizen’s trust and to develop a common market. The programme should identify the reasons underlying such discrepancies in national regulations and evaluate the risks associated with harmonization, for example a degradation of local acceptance. The implementation of subsidiarity should be assessed.
  4. Define the safety, economic, environmental and social impacts, benefits of aligned and harmonised regulations harmonised to existing international directives and propose methodologies for aligning regulations
  5. Identify opportunities for the development of joint European waste management facilities between several waste producers and for possible commercial agreements for treating radioactive materials and waste.

In addition, benefits from the work of ENSREG should be capitalised towards further harmonisation of national regulations in line with European and International directives and recommendations, and best practices, considering that Member states are free to have more protective regulations than agreed at international level.

Proposals should help aligning harmonised application of regulations but should also complement EURAD in the assessment of the feasibility of geological disposal facilities for irradiated fuel and centralized storage facilities for irradiated fuel, by assessing if they can be safely built and operated in Europe. Attention should also be given to the potential advantages of fostering a harmonized interpretation, among the various actors (implementers, regulators, science providers…) of what is considered to be sufficient and appropriate, from a scientific, societal and technical point of view, to establish and review a safety case as support to a license application for a geological disposal facility.

Due to the scope of this topic, international cooperation is encouraged.

Where appropriate, the Commission recommends that consortia make use of the services of the JRC. The JRC may participate in the preparation and submission of the proposal. The JRC would bear the operational costs for its own staff and research infrastructure operational costs. The JRC facilities and expertise are listed in General Annex H of this Work Programme.