Action Plan 1997-98


Radioactive Waste


PREFACE

The purpose of this document is to provide top level information on the subject of radioactive waste management disposal amongst the member societies of the INSC. Ultimately, this information will be made use of by politicians and members of the public as well as by those involved in the industry. The aim here is to provide an overview on the subject from an international perspective; however, more detailed aspects on the subject may be obtainable from the relevant member societies and or the radwaste management organisation in the country concerned.

Annex I: Country specific examples of radwaste management and disposal

Annex II: International Conventions

1. Introduction

In introducing a document which considers the subject of radioactive waste we must first agree on what is meant by the word "waste". For the purposes of this document we have adopted the IAEA definition of radioactive waste (Ref. 1):

It is recognised that different countries may have different interpretations, however, the important part of the definition is "for which no use is foreseen". This immediately raises the question as to the status, for example, of spent nuclear fuel. Some countries, such as the UK and France would deem spent fuel as a resource whereas Finland, USA, Sweden would regard it as a waste. The interpretation therefore can be dependent as much on National Government Policy as much as any scientific or technical description.

We must also be clear what we mean by disposal. Again, we adopt the IAEA definition:

But again the reality of the definition depends as much on Government policy. In this case it is the role of retrievability in the disposal concept. Some countries require retrievability to be an option post disposal, for example even if spent fuel were regarded as a waste in this generation, future ones may regard it as a resource. The foreclosure of future options therefore becomes a consideration. Moreover, there is a public acceptability angle here in that disposal is regarded as too final, there is the question of "What if it goes wrong and we need to get it back". The scientists have the answers but sometimes these are not to the questions uppermost in peoples minds. In addition we have to address the ethical and political questions as well in finding acceptable disposal solutions.

Radioactive waste management is therefore about addressing both the technical questions and the less technical questions. Successful implementation requires us not only to address the regulatory requirements, based on scientific arguments, but also recognise that there are issues and concerns which need us to take a more holistic approach.

The purpose of this paper is to look at radioactive waste management from an international perspective. At the same time consider how different countries are applying top level principles of radwaste management in providing an environmental solution to a technological problem. We are concentrating here on the disposal of solid radioactive waste but many of the same principles apply to discharges of liquid and gaseous radioactive effluents as well. We also realise that discharges from repositories may take place over many thousands and tens of thousands of years. Radioactivity does not implicitly recognise national boundaries, witness the Chernobyl accident for example, nor on the timescales we are talking about for geological repositories, do national borders themselves remain a constant. It is therefore important that to ensure we follow the main objective of radioactive waste management that common principles and practices are applied around the world. The main objective is described in IAEA documentation as follows (See Ref. 1):

But this does not mean to say that radwaste disposal solutions have to be found at any cost. We have a responsibility also to the present generation which has to pay for disposal to provide an environmental solution that is economical but is consistent with providing adequate safety - an optimised solution.

Radwaste management and disposal policies must also be consistent with higher level policies aimed at enhancing the environment. In particular policies such as sustainable development, a widely quoted definition being:

Further, the cost implications should be brought home directly to the people responsible for creating the problem - the "polluter pays" principle.

2. Generation of Radioactive Waste World-wide

2.1 Introduction

A general principle of radioactive waste management is that waste should not be created unnecessarily and that they are created safely and appropriately managed and treated. They should then be disposed of at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. As well as ensuring environmental protection, these principles recognise also the protection of people - both workers and members of the public.

However, radioactive waste generation is a reality and a consequence of a number of Man's activities:

2.2 Types of Radioactive Waste

Radioactive waste consists of a variety of materials having different physical and chemical properties and containing different types of radioactivity. There are no international standard definitions of waste, although the IAEA has proposed five categories (Ref. 2) and each nation tends to have developed its own classification system.

Very low-level waste (VLLW): radioactive waste that can be safely disposed of with ordinary refuse. The equivalent IAEA category would be Exempt Waste.

In the UK VLLW is waste of activity less than 400kBq/0.1m3 beta gamma activity or single items of less than 40kBq.

Low-level waste (LLW): consisting of trash and debris from routine operations and decommissioning. It is primarily low concentration beta/gamma contamination, but may include alpha contaminated material. It does not usually require special handling, unless contaminated with alpha emitters.

In the UK, LLW is defined as that waste with a radioactive content exceeding 400 kBq in any 0.1m3 and 40 kBq per article (unless the activity is due to carbon-14 or tritium, in which case the limits are a factor of ten greater) but not exceeding 4GBq/te, of alpha radioactivity, or 12 GBq/te of beta/gamma radioactivity.

Intermediate (medium) level waste (ILW): waste containing higher concentrations of beta/gamma contamination and sometimes alpha emitters. There is little heat output from this category of waste. These wastes usually require remote handling. Such waste originates from routine power station maintenance operations, for example used ion exchange resins and filter cartridges. These examples can be further classified as short-lived (usually meaning radionuclides with a half life of less than 30 years). Fuel reprocessing wastes, such as the canning materials, also are classed as ILW but contain long-lived species of radionuclides. Some countries, notably the US and Canada do not use this classification category. The IAEA has combined the classification of low and intermediate level wastes into LILW, but has maintained the short and long lived subdivisions.

In the UK, ILW is defined as that waste with a radioactive content exceeding that of LLW, and does not require heat dissipation to be taken into account in the design of storage or disposal facilities.

High-level waste (HLW): Depending on the strategy adopted for the back end of the fuel cycle, HLW may comprise either spent fuel or the highly active raffinate resulting from the first stage of fuel reprocessing. This raffinate is often immobilised in a suitable matrix for eventual disposal - glass and synroc are two examples of such a matrix. It contains high concentrations of beta/gamma emitting fission products and alpha emitting actinides. HLW is de facto a long-lived waste type and requires remote handling due to the radiation levels. In some countries the definition of HLW encompasses spent-fuel.

In the UK, HLW is defined as that waste in which the temperature may rise significantly as a result of the radioactivity, so that this factor has to be taken into account in designing storage or disposal facilities.

Some countries choose to categorise alpha bearing waste separately. For example in the USA, "Transuranic Waste" (TRU), is defined as:

"... waste containing more than 100 nanocuries of alpha-emitting transuranic isotopes, with half lives greater than twenty years, per gram of waste ...".

Such waste arises form research laboratories, fuel fabrication plants and reprocessing plants. Some alpha waste is classed as LLW, but hulls, caps and fins from reprocessing plants would be classed as ILW.

Comment
Recognising that the classification of waste is not intended to prescribe disposal routes acceptable for particular wastes, its misuse can create difficulties for waste producers in optimising the disposal of wastes that lie close to the category boundaries. For example, although high level waste and spent fuel are frequently grouped together, some kinds of spent fuel, such as fuel fragments or low irradiation fuel, could be disposed of alongside intermediate-level waste without imposing significant additional risk. The reader is referred to the IAEA Safety Guide referenced above (Ref. 2) for further discussion.

Any standardised classification system could give rise to some of the same problems. Accordingly, it is felt that safety assessments must determine the acceptability of disposing of waste by any particular route. The real need is for regulators to ensure that whilst classifications are a useful shorthand, they will not in themselves constrain waste producers' choice of disposal routes.

There is no reason why the classification of wastes should not continue to be helpful to the lay public in distinguishing between wastes in a general. However, it is recognised that there would be public relations benefit in trying to harmonise classifications and definitions.

2.3 Volumes of Radioactive Waste

With regard to the OECD countries, something like 300Mte of toxic waste is produced each year. By way of comparison a 1000 MW(e) coal plant produces some 300,000 tonnes of ash alone per year, containing among other things radioactive material and heavy metals which end up in landfill sites and in the atmosphere.

The generation of electricity from a typical 1000 MW(e) nuclear power station, which would supply the needs of a city the size of Amsterdam, produces approximately 300m3 of low and intermediate level waste per year and some 30 tonnes of high level solid packed waste per year.

Each year nuclear power generation facilities world-wide produce about 200,000 m3 of low and intermediate level waste and 10,000 m3 of high level waste (including spent fuel designated as waste). Volumes associated with particular countries are provided in the country summaries in Annex I to this paper.

3. Principles and Objective of Radioactive Waste Management

The primary objective of radwaste management and disposal is to protect humans and their environment, both now and in the future, from potential hazards arising from such wastes. Safe radwaste management involves the application of technology and resources in a regulated manner so that the public, workers and the environment are protected in accordance with accepted standards as detailed in the International Convention on the Safe Management of Radioactive Waste. In summary, these state that radioactive waste shall be managed in ways that:

4. Legal and Institutional Reference Framework

In discussing institutional arrangements particular attention is paid to the relationships between - and the responsibilities of - the State, the Regulator, Waste Producers, and the national Waste Management Organisation. The IAEA provide guidance (Ref. 3) relating to the establishment of appropriate radioactive waste management structures, and also to international analogues.

The model of the IAEA guidance on radwaste management infrastructure is sometimes referred to as the "classical triangle" principle. The model separates the three roles of the Regulator, the Waste Producer and the Waste Disposer. Each has separate responsibilities and must exhibit independence from the other. The classical triangle is shown diagramatically below. However, the triangle also has another dimension, in that the arrangements should be underpinned by firm Government policy on radwaste, on the basis of the guidance on responsibilities set out by the IAEA.

International models of institutional arrangements typically follow the principles set out above. This is not surprising given the universal importance and influence of the IAEA.

As one would expect, most countries separate the role of waste producer from the regulatory body and the radioactive waste agency itself. In practical terms, the radioactive waste management organisation faces regulatory and cost pressures from the regulator and waste producers respectively, giving it an incentive to find safe but efficient solutions.

International examples of the "classical triangle" approach can be mostly found in Europe. However, precise arrangements differ in detail in that there are examples where some aspects of disposal are undertaken by the waste producers. This has happened to an extent in the UK where BNFL and UKAEA (waste producers) have responsibility to dispose of low-level waste (LLW) at Drigg and Dounreay respectively; and in Finland where IVO and TVO, the operators of the two nuclear powers stations sites, manage LLW and short-lived ILW disposal facilities on those sites.

Nevertheless, at a working level (below the framework of the classic triangle) certain differences are apparent, particularly with respect to:

It should be emphasised that, the precise arrangements never stray far from the IAEA principles outlined earlier - however they do differ in their detail to reflect national differences in economic, social, political, legal, institutional and geographic structures. A table summarising responsibilities in some countries is set out below:

Table 1: Responsibilities for Radioactive Waste in some Countries
COUNTRYAGENCYTREATMENT AND CONDITIONINGTRANSPORTSTORAGE DISPOSAL
BelgiumONDRAF/NIRASONDRAFIn parallel with waste producersONDRAFONDRAFONDRAF
CanadaNone as yet. Government Policy indicates there will.Waste producersWaste producersWaste producersNone, but AECL undertaking R&D on disposal
GermanyBfS (subcontracted to DBE)Waste producersPerformed by industry after permit from BfSBy industry and/or federal centresBfS (subcontracted to DBE)
FinlandPosiva OyWaste ProducersN/AUtilitiesPosiva for spent fuel; utilities for L/ILW
FranceANDRAWaste producers and ANDRA for small producersANDRA(partially)By industryANDRA
KoreaNone as yetWaste producersIndustryWaste producersNone as yet. KAERI and NETEC for R&D
ItalyNUCLECOWaste producersCommercial operatorsNUCLECONo decision on disposal taken
NetherlandsCOVRACOVRA (for low and medium level waste)COVRA(for low and medium level waste)COVRADecision for disposal route to be taken next century
JapanScience & Technology Agency (Governmental)Waste ProducersBy IndustryWaste ProducerJNFL (LLW) not decided for HLW and others
SpainENRESAWaste producers and ENRESA (in particular cases)ENRESAENRESAENRESA
SwedenSKBWaste ProducersSKBSKBSKB
TaiwanNone as yetTaipowerIndustryWaste ProducerTaipower (LLW)
United KingdomUK NIREX LtdWaste producersIndustryWaste producers(nuclear industry)UK NIREX Ltd
(for ILW and alpha wastes)No decision on HLW.
United StatesUS DOE - OCRWM for HLWEM State Compacts for LLWWaste producersIndustryWaste ProducersUS DOE OCRWM at Yucca Mountain for HLW; US DOE EM at WIPP for TRU; State Compacts for LLW

5. Financing Schemes

The principle of "polluter pays" is intended to ensure that waste producers make proper provision for dealing safely with the waste, and that costs are passed on to those who benefit from its production. Generic solutions for financing radioactive waste disposal address the issues of who pays and how they should pay, and the options are:

In addition, there is a general international consensus that all liabilities (decommissioning and waste disposal) should be identified, reported and reviewed periodically and that there should be mechanisms to ensure that funds are available to meet these liabilities when they arise.

The fundamental features of radioactive waste management are extremely challenging from an economic perspective. Radwaste management is not a conventional industry where demand and supply can be easily matched. This is because of the key features of the industry such as the long timescales involved with radioactive waste management, the irrevocability of the technology and so forth. Decommissioning arrangements, waste management, and the design, construction and operation of an underground repository are lengthy processes, typically continuing many years after waste has actually been generated.

The long time scales associated with decommissioning and the design, construction and operation of a radwaste repository are particularly problematic in the context of changes in the state of technological knowledge. Once human, scientific and financial capital has been spent in the pursuit of a particular technical solution it may be difficult to take advantage of any other options which (for reasons of technological advancement) may present themselves. Capital expended quickly becomes sunk and irretrievable - the long time scales creating a problem of irreversibility. The financing mechanism needs to be robust in the face of irreversibility and technological change.

The principle of polluter pays stipulates that the costs of dealing with waste should fall as far as possible as a burden on those who benefited from its production. In the case of a radwaste management, this implies that charges should be levied on those responsible for waste generation (and by extension, where applicable, their customers). Waste is typically produced by a number of disparate sources (electricity, fuel cycle, research and so on), and the funding mechanism needs to take account of this.

For more discussion on this subject the reader is referred to Future Financial Liabilities of Nuclear Activities, NEA/OECD, Paris 1996.

6. Current World-wide Practices and Experiences

6.1 Introduction

Nuclear power production and the use of radioactive materials for medical, defence and industrial uses, brings with it the question of waste management policy. Most countries using nuclear power have well developed strategies for radioactive wastes and there are many similarities between the programmes of different countries.

Annex I to this paper gives an overview of disposal programmes of other countries for solid radioactive waste.
6.2 Disposal Concepts and Disposal Alternatives

6.2.1 Near Surface Disposal

The radioactivity of wastes suitable for disposal in shallow trenches or engineered structures will decay to harmless levels over periods of two to three hundred years. The design of the trenches / structures reflects the need to provide an adequate degree of isolation depending upon the level of radioactivity associated with the particular types of waste.

In the case of low-level wastes the requirement for engineered barriers is minimal. It is usually assumed that these wastes will undergo limited treatment, such as compaction, and be packaged in drums or other appropriate containers.

In addition to solid low-level wastes, the applicability of disposal to shallow trenches to selected intermediate-level wastes containing somewhat higher concentrations of beta/gamma emitters of 30 years or less half-life and only very low concentrations of long-lived materials is sometimes considered. For these wastes the trenches would be deeper and the natural geological barrier would be augmented by engineered barriers. Intermediate-level waste is conditioned as appropriate typically in steel drums or concrete boxes. Many of these wastes require some degree of shielding during handling.

Examples of such facilities are Drigg in the UK, Centre de l'Aube and Centre de la Manche in France, Rokkasho-Mura in Japan, El Cabril in Spain.

6.2.2 Deep Disposal

Deep disposal in stable geological formations is a means of safe containment of long-lived radioactive materials over periods of many thousands of years. Deep disposal ensures that any risk from exposure due to accidental intervention or natural disturbance is reduced to a very low level. The main route by which radionuclides in the waste could return to the biosphere is movement in groundwater which may eventually reach the surface to enter the environment.

Movement of radionuclides in groundwater will be impeded by the engineered and natural geological barriers. The inherent insolubility of the waste form, the package in which it is contained, and the backfill material put around the package limit the access of water to the waste and restrict the rate at which radionuclides can pass into solution. Furthermore, by choosing a host geological formation in which water movement is extremely small and whose constituent minerals have a significant sorptive capability for radionuclides, it is possible to delay the emergence of those radionuclides which do go into solution for very long times. It has to be shown that the resulting radioactive decay reduces to negligible levels the quantity of radionuclides that would eventually arrive at the surface.

The depth at which a repository is excavated depends on local geological conditions, since these determine the effective path length for the migration of radionuclides. Therefore, the depth of cover required in different rock types may vary. Access to depth are by shafts or incline.

Site specific, examples of this form of disposal are the proposals for WIPP, New Mexico and Yucca Mountain in the US, and Morseleben and Gorleben in Germany. The descriptions of the national programmes in Annex I contain more details.

6.2.3 Alternatives

Space Disposal

Disposing of used fuel by sending it into space has been considered and advocated in the past. Of all disposal methods, it has the greatest potential to isolate the wastes permanently from the biosphere. Although it is technically possible, its costs would be very high. Studies have indicated that the number of flights required to transport high volume of radwaste would be impractical; space disposal could be feasible only for very small volume of reprocessed high-level wastes. The risk of catastrophic accidents is estimated to be about one per cent per flight, and thus that the radiological risk of disposal in space is higher than for geological disposal.

Ice Sheet Disposal

Disposal of spent nuclear fuel in ice sheets has also been suggested in the past and at first sight appears to be feasible, however, it has not been extensively researched. The idea has the advantage of placing the waste in a slowly changing environment devoid of living organisms. Canadian glaciers are too small for this method, so ice sheets in Greenland or the Antarctic would have to be employed. Correspondingly, the wastes would have to be transported over great distances. Moreover, treaty obligations preclude disposal in the Antarctic.

Seabed Disposal

Proposals for seabed disposal range from placing spent fuel on or beneath deep oceanic plains, far from continental margins, to placing it in zones of subsidence along continental margins such as the Pacific coast. The former proposal was studied over 10 years and partially demonstrated by an international seabed working group. Many scientists consider it to be the best disposal option. It is potentially safe, except for transportation accidents where containers could not be recovered. Preliminary estimates suggest that its costs could compare favourably with those of other disposal methods. Sites away from the continental margins have the advantages of being located in geologically stable areas, as well as being well removed from areas of human habitation or intrusion, and areas of important biological and mineral resources.

Obligations under the London Dumping Convention (1972) prohibit seabed disposal, such approaches would require re-negotiated international acceptance and an international regulatory framework.

Partitioning and Transmutation

Partitioning and transmutation is the name given to a waste treatment process in which certain long-lived radionuclides are partitioned (separated) from high level waste and transmuted by irradiation in a nuclear reactor or in an accelerator. This, in theory, converts the longer lived radionuclides into shorter lived ones, or ones that are stable.

Partitioning and transmutation consists of:

The benefits perceived PTA are that the process reduces the long-term radiotoxicity of radwaste; makes the task of final disposal simpler by reducing the number, size and costs of repositories; increases the total energy production from the fuel cycle; and make final disposal more acceptable to the public.

Partition and transmutation has been the subject of extensive international studies, principally by the European Commission, OECD/NEA and the IAEA. The overall conclusion is that PTA is an expensive option, involving huge investment in research and facilities. The benefits in terms of reduction in radiological risk and increased energy production were determined to be small. The PTA concept was therefore unattractive on cost-benefit and radiological grounds.

Substantial R&D programmes on PTA are however being pursued in several countries. Progress has been made in the development of PTA processes, but there are several unresolved difficulties and further development is required before any could be implemented. Actinides could be transmuted in fast reactors but the transmutation of the key long-lived fission products is a difficult problem.

Transmutation in accelerators is being looked at in several countries. The circumstances in those countries which reprocess their waste are such that PTA would make a very limited impact on radioactive waste management, as PTA has no realistic potential to contribute positively to the management of ILW, nor indeed LLW, including PCM wastes, at the present time.

7. R&D programmes and International Co-operation

7.1 Introduction

As noted elsewhere in this document, there are many similarities between the ways in which different countries undertake the management and disposal of their radioactive waste. There is therefore extensive collaboration and exchange of information between these countries. The purpose being that organisations work together to keep abreast of each others programmes, share knowledge and broaden experience, develop common policies and strategies, and maximise the benefits of research and development expenditure.

Multi-national projects, include:

For many years there has been extensive collaboration and exchange of information throughout the international community. In addition, many countries collaborate, on the basis of bilateral or multilateral agreements, on research, development and other aspects of waste disposal.

A prime example the international sp Hard Rock Laboratory project in Sweden, run by the Swedish radioactive waste disposal company SKB.

The benefits of such co-operation are:

7.2 Multi-Lateral Projects

7.2.1 SKB's Aspo hard rock laboratory Sweden

Those participating in SKB's Hard Rock Laboratory project on the island of sp, are AECL (Canada), TVO (Finland), ANDRA (France), BMBF (Germany), PNC and CRIEPI (Japan), NAGRA (Switzerland), Nirex (UK), and DoE (USA). Work in the laboratory stated in 1994.

In addition to its involvement in the overall programme at sp, Nirex, SKB and ANDRA, participate in the ZEDEX experiment (Zone of Excavation Disturbance Experiment) which studies the effect of tunnel excavation on the surrounding rock mass. The ZEDEX experiment represents an outstanding achievement in international technical co-operation.

7.2.2 AECL's underground research laboratory, Whiteshell, Manitoba, Canada

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) has constructed an underground research laboratory (URL) in granite near Whiteshell Manitoba, as part of the generic activities not at a proposed repository site, associated with the Canadian disposal programme. However, the future of this facility is under consideration at the time of preparing this report.

7.2.3 Development of coupled models (DECOVALEX project)

DECOVALEX is an international project, the aim of which is to study the development of thermo-hydro-mechanical coupled models and their validation against experiments. The project was initiated by the Swedish regulatory body SKI in 1991. It is now jointly funded by SKB, Nirex, ENRESA, PNC, AECL, AECB (Canada), ANDRA and IPSN of France.

7.2.4 Biosphere modelling (BIOMASS project)

BIOMASS is an international project, under the aegis of the IAEA, the aim of which is to develop reference biosphere methodologies. While the project is designed for all IAEA Member State institutions responsible for determining environmental impact, funding is provided by ANDRA, IPSN, CIEMAT (Spain), ENRESA, NAGRA, PNC, Nirex and BNFL (UK).

The project grew out of earlier work on validating computer models designed to calculate the transfer and accumulation of radionuclides in the biosphere, which ran from 1986 to 1996, and a research programme looking at the transfer of radionuclides in the terrestrial, urban and aquatic environments which was initiated in the wake of the Chernobyl accident.

7.2.5 Natural analogue projects

The study of natural analogues - occurrences of high concentrations of natural radioactivity or geological and hydrological environments similar to those expected in repositories - can make an important input into understanding some aspects of radioactive waste repository performance. A number of natural analogue projects are being undertaken around the world.

For example the Maqarin site in Jordan contains hyperalkaline waste with a pH of up to 13 - typical of the situation expected in a deep repository near field. This project started in 1990 with funding from NAGRA, Ontario Hydro of Canada and Nirex. Phase three of the project has now been completed with additional participation from SKB and the Environment Agency of the UK.

El Berrocal, a uranium mine in Spain, was studied as a natural analogue of uranium migration processes in fractured crystalline rock. A CEC/ENRESA/Nirex co-funded project ran from 1991 to 1995. Particular attention was paid to rock matrix diffusion and the role of colloids.

7.2.6 European Union Sponsored Activities

The European Union's Fourth Framework Programme for shared cost radioactive waste research and development has included the following projects.

Gas Generation and migration studies (PROGRESS project)

PROGRESS is the Programme for Research into Gas Generation and Migration in European Radioactive Waste Repository Systems. The EU is co-funding the project along with BfS (Germany), TVO (Finland), SCK/CEN (Belgium), ENRESA and Nirex.

Evolution of groundwater systems (EQUIP Project)

The project is looking at evidence from Quaternary infills for historical changes to groundwater conditions. The aim is to develop and demonstrate an improved methodology for investigating how deep groundwater systems at potential repository sites have been affected by conditions during the past few hundred thousand years.

Cement programme

The Cement Programme is researching the mineralisation (permanent retention) or actinides (series of elements in the periodic table beginning with actinium all of which are radioactive) in cement.

Club d'Agencies

The Club d'Agencies is an informal gathering of all of the national radioactive waste disposal organisations of the European Union, with the Commission providing the secretariat. The grouping meets about twice each year and provides an opportunity for the members to discuss the relative progress of national programmes. In addition, each meeting considers a specialist topic; recent ones have included the socio-economic impact of siting disposal facilities or underground research laboratories, financing radioactive waste disposal and post closure performance assessment. The membership comprises ANDRA, BfS, ENRESA, Posiva Oy (Finland), SKB, COVRA (The Netherlands), Nucleco (Italy), ONDRAF and Nirex.

Assistance to Eastern Europe (Cassiopee)

Cassiopee was established in February 1993 to assist countries of Eastern Europe in developing radioactive waste management systems within a framework of the European Union's assistance programmes PHARE and TACIS. It's membership comprises ANDRA, COVRA, DBE, ENRESA, ONDRAF and Nirex.

The creation of the consortium marked an important step forward in international co-operation on radioactive waste management. Building upon existing relationships between the radioactive agencies of the European Union, the consortium provides a vehicle for specialists in Western European countries to combine capabilities and share experiences with their counterparts in Eastern Europe.

The countries of Eastern Europe with nuclear power programmes face a challenge in ensuring the safe management of radioactive waste and it is in the interest of all involved that the West shares its experience in this field. Much effort is devoted to reactor safety issues in the Eastern Countries, but it is vital that similar effort is devoted to waste management if unnecessary problems are to be avoided in the years to come.

While each member performs a similar role and has similar responsibilities in its own country, differences in national radioactive waste disposal policies imply that any single organisation would not have sufficient capabilities to cover the broad set of skills and expertise called for in dealing with the wide range of issues facing the Eastern European countries. Forming a consortium was a logical step and ensured that all aspects of radioactive waste management could be more than adequately covered.

One of the first tasks undertaken by the consortium in 1993 was a one-year long project of major importance to the Eastern European countries. Working under contract to the European Union, teams from the consortium went to Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the Slovak Republic to discover at first hand the radioactive waste management situation in those countries.

A report identifying the issues and priorities was presented to the Commission in June 1994. Since that time, Cassiopee has been asked by the Commission to follow through its earlier work and draw up terms of reference for specific projects. Cassiopee considers that hardware and engineering projects are of value only if they form part of a coherent strategy which takes account of the institutional, financial and legal aspects of disposal.

7.2.7 The Work of IAEA

In addition to the IAEA co-ordinated research programme BIOMASS, the IAEA produces safety standards for radioactive waste under the RADWASS programme. Again this involves bringing together experts from many countries.

7.2.8 The Work of the OECD/NEA

The Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD exists to promote co-operation amongst Member States in furthering the development of nuclear power. Within the NEA, the Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC) considers radioactive waste disposal issues and has focused increasingly on the selection and evaluation of potential disposal sites. Most significantly, in 1995, the RWMC published its collective opinion jointly with the OECD Environment Directorate, on "The Environmental and Ethical Basis of Geological Disposal" (OECD/NEA, Paris, 1995) of long-lived radioactive wastes.

The key conclusions can be summarised as follows:

"... the Committee members:

These conclusions were reached following consideration of intergenerational equity, concerning the responsibilities of current generations who might be leaving potential risks and burdens to future generations; and intragenerational equity, balancing resource allocation and involvement of various sections of contemporary society in fair and open decision making process related to the waste management solutions being implemented.

They further considered that from an ethical standpoint our responsibilities to future generations are best served by final disposal than long term storage.

8. International Instruments

8.1 General

Broadly speaking, four international organisations contribute to the development and statement of principles for radioactive waste management. They are:

  • The IAEA;
  • The ICRP;
  • OECD NEA; and (for some countries)
  • The CEU (Commission of the European Union).
    A summary of International Instruments is provided in Annex II.

    8.2 The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

    The IAEA was established by the United Nations in 1957 to ensure world co-operation for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It has some 113 member countries and is responsible for the prevention of the diversion of nuclear materials to weapons production. In addition, the IAEA has also been responsible for the development of safety guidelines in relation to the key components of the nuclear cycle. These are set out in a series of colour-coded documents.

    Whilst IAEA guidelines and regulations have no legal jurisdiction, in practice member countries usually comply with their recommendations. As a multi-lateral international organisation, the IAEA's influence is considerable because of its relationship with the World Bank and so forth. Because these multi-lateral organisations tend to work together, few countries risk souring relations with any particular agency.

    8.3 International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP)

    Radiological protection dates back to the early years of medical uses of radiation and radioactive materials, with various countries introducing protection rules during the first few decades of this century. Since 1928, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) has published universal recommendations, regularly updated in the light of recent information, on the effects of radiation exposure on health. The ICRP is an independent body of medical and scientific experts.

    8.4 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD NEA)

    The NEA is an agency of the OECD. Membership currently consists of all European Union member countries as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico and the US.

    The primary objective of NEA is to promote co-operation among the governments of its participating countries in furthering the development of nuclear power as a safe, environmentally acceptable and economic energy source. This is achieved by:

  • Encouraging harmonisation of national regulatory polices and practices, with particular reference to the safety of nuclear installations, protection of man against ionising radiation, preservation of the environment, radioactive waste management, and nuclear third party liability and insurance;
  • Assessing the contribution of nuclear power to the overall energy supply by keeping under review the technical and economic aspects of nuclear power growth and forecasting demand and supply for the different phases of the nuclear fuel cycle;
  • Developing exchanges of scientific and technical information, particularly through participation in common services;
  • Ensuring that appropriate technical and economic studies on nuclear energy development and the fuel cycle are carried out; and
  • Setting up international research and development programmes and joint undertakings.
    In these and related tasks, NEA works closely in collaboration with the IAEA, with which it has concluded a co-operation agreement, as well as with other international organisations in the nuclear field.

    8.5 Commission of the European Union (CEU)

    Recommendations made by the ICRP, IAEA and OECD NEA form the basis of specific community directives issued by the CEU. The principles, standards and requirements relating to nuclear and environmental matters in all member states of the EU are based on the Treaty of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) of 1957, the Treaty of the European Economic Community (EEC) of 1957 and the Single European Act of 1987. They are implemented in accordance with the requirements of these treaties, through formal and binding regulations, directives and decisions.

    9. Socio-political Considerations

    9.1 Introduction

    International experience demonstrates that there are two principal ways of undertaking the development of a controversial project such as the siting of a nuclear power station or radioactive waste disposal facility. The first is by Executive Action in the name of national need. Alternative opinions are neither sought nor considered. However, it is sometimes the case that some governments or authorities do take advice, but then take Executive Action. The second is through a democratic process of formal and informal consultation, communication and local involvement.

    There are many credibility advantages in the latter approach.

    In a typical consultation process draft proposals, sufficiently detailed to allow an informed opinion and decision, are laid before the relevant public on the understanding that concerns will be addressed and that the views expressed will be taken fully into account. This may mean the modification or abandonment of the proposals in their initial form.

    9.2 Criteria for success

    To achieve the objective of winning public confidence in the programme must be underpinned by an acceptance by the proposer that one cannot sell, or put a gloss on, a poor product.

    Examination of communication programmes show that those that are successful are extensions of an open and transparent organisation. Guiding principles are:

    Following these principles helps to foster credibility and trust. Once trust is established there are well tried techniques and a wide variety of media to impart information. These can be selected to suit particular audiences.

    The underlying need for the safe management of radioactive waste fulfils the requirement for a good/ necessary service. The apparent desire to involve the public in the waste management programme and in the siting of a national waste repository or repositories, promises to fulfil the requirement for an open mind.

    The public must be able to follow the logic of a site selection process and not feel the process is being rushed for political or economic reasons or that "authorities" are taking advantage of them.

    To support a project, the community must participate effectively and must feel that it has actual power to defend its interests should the need arise. After site selection, the local agenda will be more detailed and often totally different to the national agenda, with more attention focused upon participation in institutional controls, operational safety and benefits such as employment and infrastructure improvements. National concerns tend to be for the far future and to involve moral and ethical principles.

    9.3 Political Reality

    The selection of a site for any controversial project be it for a radwaste repository or other industrial complex is often subject to the NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome. However, it is often found that the degree of opposition increases with distance from the site; in many cases projects do have local support because there are direct and indirect benefits (such as jobs, improvement of the local economy) in the locality.

    As important to public support in a project is the political will that is needed to be sustained if there is to be any success. However, the search for a repository site can be a long-term affair spanning many years and many terms of office so that undertakings given by one Government may be overturned by subsequent administrations. All countries face this risk and it is therefore important to foster cross party support and not let radwaste management and disposal issues become a political football.

    10. References

    1: The Principles of Radioactive Waste Management, Safety Series No. 111-F, IAEA, Vienna 1995.

    2: Classification of Radioactive Waste, A Safety Guide. A Publication in the Radwass Programme. Safety Series No. 111-G-1.1, IAEA 1994.

    3: Establishing and National System for Radioactive Waste Management, Safety Series No. 111-S-1, Vienna 1995.

    4: Law No. 91-1381 of December 30, 1991 on Radioactive Waste Management Research.


    Annex I: Country specific examples of radwaste management and disposal

    Annex II: International Conventions

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