Nuclear waste management and environmental impact research at JRC
JRC activities with regards to the management of high level nuclear waste continue to follow the two major options chosen in the EU: geological disposal, where the major objective is to prevent the release of radio nuclides to the biosphere over a very long time scale and partitioning and transmutation, which is an alternative waste management strategy that would considerably reduce the radio-toxicity of waste both in activity and in time. The variety of these activities is reflected in seven sub agendas:
The management of spent fuel and nuclear high level waste (NHLW) involves transport, conditioning, storage and geological disposal. The overarching aim of this research is to reduce the release of radio-nuclides in the environment over a long time scale.
The JRC aims at obtaining data for the long-term behaviour of spent fuel and developing methods for the reliable assessment of the engineered systems with the emphasis on the integrity of the waste packages and the benchmarking of risk-oriented decision criteria.
Laboratory experiments on fuel behaviour under representative conditions will provide relevant input to the models for long-term predictions and allow their validation. JRC will also participate in the various European efforts for safe waste disposal solutions and actively support transfer of knowledge between different countries.
The management of nuclear waste continues to be the major societal concern with regard to the operation of nuclear power plants. JRC activities aim at providing reliable information to policy and decision makers for the management of radioactive waste, in particular spent fuel, in order to reduce the radio toxicity both in activity and in time and thus permitting a safe, sustainable and broadly acceptable management strategy for spent fuel and long-lived waste.
Partitioning of high level nuclear waste is the process (chemical or electrochemical) of separation of short life radio nuclides (mainly the fission products) from the long life radio nuclides (mainly the so called minor actinides, Neptunium, Curium, Americium).
Transmutation of high level nuclear waste is the process of changing long-lived radio nuclides into other, shorter-lived radio nuclides by radioactive bombardment.
Operations that render nuclear waste suitable for handling, transportation, storage and/or disposal. Conditioning may include the conversion of the radioactive waste to a solid waste form, enclosure of the radioactive waste in containers, and, if necessary, providing an overpack.
With much still to be discovered about the unique set of chemical elements known as "actinides" - such as uranium, neptunium, plutonium and beyond - advanced laboratory facilities are operated at ITU. ACTUSLAB is opening these unique facilities to researchers from EU and Associated Countries to find out more about actinides' unusual nuclear, chemical and physical properties.
Knowledge about actinides is important not only because of its relevance to issues related to nuclear power generation, radioactive waste treatment and disposal, but also for the pure advancement of science.
For many isotopes or neutron energy regions experimental data are lacking or are inconsistent, and the evaluations rely on model codes to complement the data bases. Especially in these cases data libraries often show substantial differences among each other.
JRC actions support international programmes co-ordinating new measurements and evaluations, with special emphasis on the JEFF project (Joint Evaluated Fission and Fusion File). JRC offers access to its facilities to external users through a Euratom Transnational Access Programme.
JRC's nuclear facilities and expertise are also being deployed in the field of medical applications for the therapy of cancer and infectious diseases. Research is focussing on the production of new isotopes and the development of clinical reference materials, and also investigates societal, such as therapies for diseases of the ageing (e.g. arthritis), and ethical issues like new test methods that help avoiding animal experiments.
Many of Europe's citizens are concerned about levels of radioactive contamination of the environment. Not just since Chernobyl, but since the signing of the Euratom treaty, the member states have been obliged monitor radiation levels and forward the data to the European Commission. To ensure comparability of these data, the JRC organises annual evaluation campaigns for the participating laboratories. It also runs the European information system which monitors radiation in the environment both under normal circumstances and in the event of a crisis, such as a nuclear accident.
The JRC collates, standardises, analyses, confirms and publishes all data recording radiation levels in the European environment - whether the radiation is found in soil, water or the atmosphere. The JRC develops the necessary information systems and helps both member states and candidates for accession to meet their obligations under the Euratom treaty and EU Regulations. JRC researchers are also developing models with which it will be possible, using statistical methods, to predict the spread of radioactive clouds in the atmosphere. This will help civil defence agencies to make a rapid assessment of the potential danger and inform the population in the event of an emergency.
These activities aim at maintaining, developing and disseminating knowledge in the nuclear field. The JRC promotes and disseminates comprehensive sources of reliable nuclear information, provides high level training for young students and researchers in the nuclear field and dedicated seminars. It also supports the co-ordination and provision for general training needs in nuclear science and technology through scientific networking, schools and workshops.
Details on scientific actions in this area:
- Analysis of Nuclear Traces in the Environment
- Radionuclide metrology for primary standardisation and policy support
- Nuclear data for radioactive waste management and safety of new reactor developments
- Radioactivity Environmental Monitoring
- Knowledge management , education and training - nuclear fuel cycle
- Alternative Nuclear Fuel Cycle
- Nuclear Waste Disposal
- Fundamental and applied Actinides Research
- Basic research in nuclear physics and nuclear data standards