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Non-nuclear energy


Fission and radiation protection

Support Action: Pilot Initiative on European Regional Repositories

Some nations in the enlarged European Union with smaller nuclear power programmes may not have the resources or range of expertise to build their own repositories for long-lived radioactive wastes. For these and other states, there may also be environmental and economic advantages in co-operation. The prospect that countries could work together to explore regional solutions will raise new transnational issues of safety and governance. These include: nuclear security, safety of multi-user repositories with diverse waste types, national and European public acceptability, transboundary waste transport, and national and European economics and law. SAPIERR brings together interested Member States and Associated Countries to lay the foundations for concept development.

Scoping collaborative programmes, seeking the boundaries

Schematic layout of a deep repository © Courtesy: DECOM Slovakia
Schematic layout of a deep repository
© Courtesy: DECOM Slovakia
SAPIERR is a pilot initiative to help Europe establish the boundaries of the issue of potential collaboration between Member States to build regional high-level, long-lived waste depositories receiving waste from two or more national waste disposal programmes. The project will collate and integrate information in sufficient depth to allow concepts for potential regional options to be identified and the new RTD needs to be mapped out. Possible future programme components and structures will be suggested.

SAPIERR brings together Member States and candidate countries wishing to explore the feasibility of regional European solutions to this issue. Specific proposals for individual regional facilities, including potential sites for construction, are not part of this initial pilot study. The work is aimed at establishing the boundary conditions for such collaborations and the implications for an enlarged European community.

Gathering and analysing data for possible scenarios

The development of a geological repository is a very long-term project lasting decades. Given the current rapid geopolitical development in Europe, in particular enlargement, the socio-political reservations concerning multinational repositories that have been expressed by some countries may not be significant issues when actual construction is required. Indeed, the environmental and economic advantages of a type of shared disposal solution may prevail over perceived political disadvantages. The prospect that European countries with small nuclear power programmes could work together to explore regional solutions for the disposal of long-lived radioactive wastes is raised in the draft of the European Commission (EC) Directive for "the management of the spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste".

SAPIERR is an initial project, implemented by a small consortium and involves parties from several interested countries that is gathering relevant data and analysing it to produce scenarios and possible concepts for European multinational storage and disposal of high-level radioactive waste. It will also identify related RTD needs to propose mechanisms for developing strategy options and future EU research programmes. A commitment to participate in the working group and to supply relevant national data has already been signalled by organizations from some EU Member States and candidate countries. One essential project tool is a working group of 21 organisations from 14 countries interested in the concept of European regional repositories. The first formal meeting of the SAPIERR working group was held on 19-20 February 2004 in Slovakia, hosted by DECOM Slovakia, the project coordinator. ARIUS, the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage, set up to promote concepts for international solutions to the storage and disposal of radioactive waste, was founded in 2002 in Switzerland and is DECOM Slovakia’s partner in SAPIERR.

Future research needs for concepts development

The SAPIERR project will not be able to tackle all the open issues associated with multinational repositories. The emphasis is on the waste inventory data collection and legal aspects, together with identification of future RTD needs. The specific objectives of SAPIERR are to develop a collaboration framework and an initial database for regional waste management in Europe, and to identify amounts, types and timescales for relevant wastes. The team will assess all waste requiring geological disposal, but the emphasis will be on spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. From this data, possible concepts for European regional storage and disposal will be identified and the main safety and governance implications raised by these concepts analysed. From these studies, priorities for future in-depth studies will be proposed and the case for new, transnational RTD requirements examined. In particular, mechanisms will be proposed for developing strategy options and RTD needs in future EU programmes.

An important overarching objective is to ensure that considerations of regional repository concepts in the EU proceed in harmony with national programme strategies. It is important that these two strategies are understood as complementary approaches intended to ensure that safe and secure geological disposal is ultimately available to all members of the enlarged Union. The fact that the working group includes members from all EU Member States and candidate and Associated Countries with a direct interest in exploring regional solutions is the project’s first main achievement. In addition to normal reporting channels, project findings will be presented to the European Commission at an international seminar at the end of the project.

Looking to acceptable solutions

The development of a geological repository is a very long-term project, requiring expertise and adequate resourcing. The long-term, safe and secure disposal of currently stockpiled radioactive waste is a task that every EU Member State has to tackle in the near future. Although previously seen as a political problem, the construction of regional repositories, in which a number of countries share a single facility, may have economic and environmental benefits and produce acceptable disposal solutions.

Disposal of radioactive waste is a global issue and regional repositories are also of interest outside Europe, although they have yet to be studied in depth. SAPIERR will put Europe in a leading position to provide advice and, possibly, services to other parts of the world.

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