Joint Research Centre - European Commission

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AAAS 2010 - EU and US scientists discuss nuclear waste management

AAAS 2010 - EU and US scientists discuss nuclear waste management

EU and US scientists discuss nuclear waste management


While in the US the Obama administration has said it will abandon the nuclear waste disposal project at Yucca Mountain and has set up a "blue-ribbon" commission on America's future management of nuclear waste, in Europe, two countries (Sweden and Finland) have already selected a disposal site for nuclear waste and France will specify a location by 2013. In a number of other European countries (e.g. Switzerland and UK), geological disposal is the reference management option and things are moving forward to the site selection stage.

AAAS 2010 - EU and US scientists discuss nuclear waste management

AAAS 2010 - EU and US scientists discuss nuclear waste management

Scientists from both sides of the Atlantic gathered in a lively session at the AAAS annual meeting to discuss the different options for nuclear waste management. Roland Schenkel, JRC Director General, Claes Thegerstrom, CEO of SKB and Allison Macfarlane, a member of the US blue ribbon commission agreed that geological disposal is a sound option. Yet, there is a joint awareness that continued and strengthened cooperation on the scientific, technical and societal challenges of geological disposal is beneficial for its safe and timely implementation. In effect, public acceptance was one of the recurrent topics discussed both with the audience in the session and the journalists in the news briefing.

Even if all nuclear reactors were shut down today, the accumulated nuclear waste would still need to be taken care of, and the reasons put forward by the speakers in favor of this option were:

  • Geological disposal provides a unique level and duration of protection for high activity long-lived radioactive waste;
  • The overwhelming scientific consensus world-wide is that it is technically feasible;
  • It can be accommodated in a broad range of geological settings.

However, remaining scientific and technical challenges were also highlighted:

  • the further reduction in uncertainties regarding the predictions on the repository behaviour in the very long term,
  • understanding when knowledge is sufficient for well founded decision-making,
  • how to transfer the results of RD&D activities into proven and reliable technologies, and
  • aspects related to operational safety of repositories.

Attendees were keen on knowing the insights of the Swedish experience for site selection following the failure of the Yucca Mountain project and various aspects ranging from the communication strategy to follow, the role of municipalities or the need to choose more than one site were discussed.