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Nuclear energy

Public consultation

Approaches for a possible EU legislative proposal on the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste

Consultation period

From  31/03/2010  to  31/05/2010

Policy fields

Nuclear energy

Target group(s)

Public authorities, Member States authorities, private organisations, industry associations, SMEs, citizens, consumer organisations, environmental organisations


Objectives of the consultation

The online questionnaire is related to a possible legislative proposal governing the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, which aims at re-launching a Commission initiative to enact binding legislation in the field.

While it is for each Member State to choose whether or not to invest in nuclear energy, the nuclear safety and security framework applied everywhere in the EU is of common interest. The cross-border impact of nuclear energy and increased international cooperation requires the EU to maintain the highest safety, security, non-proliferation and environmental protection standards for nuclear generation. The EU therefore needs to develop a common legislative framework with respect to the safety of nuclear installations and the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste.

As a first element on this road, a Council Directive establishing a Community framework for the nuclear safety of nuclear installations was recently adopted with the agreement of all 27 Member States and strong support from the European Parliament (Council Directive 2009/71/Euratom, OJ L 172, 2.7.2009, p. 18–22). As to radioactive waste and spent fuel, the scope of the Safety Directive is limited to storage facilities for radioactive waste and spent fuel that are on the same site and are directly related to nuclear installations.

All EU Member States generate radioactive waste, whether or not they have a national nuclear power programme, and therefore have to identify solutions and define national requirements to manage it properly.

Radioactive waste arises mainly from activities of the nuclear fuel cycle, such as the operation of nuclear power plants and the reprocessing of spent fuel, but also from other activities, such as applications of radioactive isotopes in medicine, research and industry. Final disposal solutions are required for all existing radioactive waste, regardless of whether nuclear programmes are continued, expanded or phased out. In addition, sufficient capacity for safe interim storage facilities has to be foreseen.

While for the less dangerous short lived very low, low and intermediate level waste, strategies are or are going to be implemented at an industrial scale in almost all the Member States. With nuclear power plants, progress on disposal solutions for high level waste and spent fuel subject to direct disposal, is noted only in a few Member States.

EU legislation is possibly required as a driver for Member States to take the necessary decisions and define the requirements and steps to ensure the safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste by public or private organisation in their countries.

In the framework of the Euratom Treaty, the existing Community legislation dealing with spent fuel and radioactive waste covers only a small range of the issues involved in their management, such as the supervision and control of shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel as well as the nuclear safety of storage facilities for spent fuel and radioactive waste that are on the same site and are directly related to nuclear installation.

In order to fill this gap, in 2003, the Commission proposed a Council Directive (Euratom) on the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste and, in 2004, resubmitted to the Council an amended proposal (COM(2004)526final) pdf. After long negotiations, the Council called for an “extensive consultation” with stakeholders before any instrument in this field would be developed in the framework of the Euratom Treaty (June 2004 Council conclusions on Nuclear Safety and Safe Management of Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste, 10823/04).

Consequently, since then, the Commission has been addressing these issues by means of different initiatives at EU level, such as the Council Working Group on Nuclear Safety (WPNS), the new European High Level Group on Nuclear Safety and Waste Management (ENSREG, created in 2007 representing a group of senior officials from national regulatory or nuclear safety authorities from all 27 EU Member States), the European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) and the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNE-TP). The development of a common understanding and of Community rules aimed to further improving the situation of the radioactive waste and spent fuel management is largely supported. ENSREG itself is also already working on the substance of such an initiative.

In particular, the Council in its Conclusions of 10 November 2009 calls on the Commission to continue its work towards a Community approach in this field. The European Parliament also asked to submit a new proposal for a Directive on radioactive waste management, taking into account the "polluter-pays" principle (2007 Report on Assessing Euratom – 50 years of European nuclear policy).

Finally, such an instrument would respond to the concerns of the European citizens expressed in the latest special Eurobarometer report 297 on radioactive waste of 2008 on attitudes towards radioactive waste. The poll revealed that an overwhelming majority of European citizens prefer a solution for the management of high-level waste to be developed now. They also expect the EU to monitor national practices and programmes for managing radioactive waste in the Member States and to harmonise methodologies. Citizens also demand Member States to be fully responsible for the management of their own radioactive waste according to a management plan specifying fixed deadlines.

In the light of the above, the Commission intends to re-launch the process of enacting a dedicated legislative proposal on radioactive waste and spent fuel management that would seek to achieve and maintain the safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste

All interested parties are welcome to contribute to the debate. The Commission will carefully evaluate the feedback to the consultation and ensure practical follow-up.

Contact details

Responsible service : ENER.DDG2.D.2

Postal address:

European Commission
DG Energy - ENER.DDG2.D.2
'Nuclear energy, transport, decommissioning & waste management'
Euroforum building
L 2920 Luxembourg

Number of responses received to this consultation

The Commission received 510 answers to the questionnaire and 25 additional contributions from a variety of stakeholders.