European framework for nuclear waste

Some European Union (EU) nations may have to speed up their radioactive waste management programs after a new policy directive was adopted in Brussels.

The directive officially adopted by the European Council today means every one of the EU’s 27 member states must have, by 2015, a plan to safely dispose of radioactive waste using staff that are properly trained and regulated, as opposed to any other kind of method.

“With this directive, the EU becomes the most advanced region for the safe management of radioactive waste and spent fuel,” claimed Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger. The EU told its 500 million citizens that “the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management has cross-border implications and cannot be guaranteed under a strictly national approach.”

The forthcoming national plans must cover transport of wastes and include a “concrete timetable for the construction of disposal facilities.” They will be subject to scrutiny by the European Commission which could “require changes,” although ultimate responsibility for waste management remains with member states. Plans are expected to use a step-by-step approach to geologic disposal based on the voluntary involvement of potential host communities.

Two routes are acknowledged: one to dispose of used nuclear fuel as waste; the other to reprocess the fuel and recycle the uranium and plutonium while disposing of the remainder as waste. Exports of radioactive waste will be possible between EU states, which could combine to create a shared facility. Exports outside the EU will only be possible to countries that already have a repository in operation that meets IAEA standards. For overseas reprocessing, ultimate wastes must be returned to the originating EU country.

The directive made the use of International Atomic Energy Agency standards in waste management and disposal legally binding for EU states, and the directive’s aims must be transposed into the national legislature of each EU member state within two years.

Some 143 reactors are deployed across 14 of the EU’s 27 member states to provide over one third of total EU electricity. The other states still have responsibility to dispose of radioactive waste produced by research, medicine and industry.


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