A pan-European approach to research on radioactive waste management
The European Commission is supporting a new European Joint research Programme on radioactive waste management, building on the far-reaching results of an EU-funded project that explored how best to pool resources, expertise and research and development efforts for the safe, efficient and secure treatment and storage of radioactive waste.
© Scanrail #205497470, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
All European countries have a shared interest in ensuring that radioactive waste management is achieved securely, safely and efficiently in the short and the long term, via disposal in carefully designed and securely sited deep geological facilities.
National radioactive waste management programmes in Europe differ significantly depending on the waste inventory. Some countries are responsible for relatively small volumes of medical, research reactor-derived and industrial radioactive wastes, while others have comparatively large or complex waste inventories derived from nuclear power stations, fuel reprocessing and defence programmes. The work of the EU-funded JOPRAD initiative has laid the foundations for extensive R&D cooperation among numerous organisations, research institutes and public administrations across EU member states and beyond in devising optimal methods to manage this waste for decades to come.
For more than 40 years, considerable scientific and technical knowledge has been acquired in Europe in the field of radioactive waste management in particular for deep geological disposal, says Marie Garcia, a member of the JOPRAD coordination team at Andra, the organisation in charge of radioactive waste disposal, in France.
R&D efforts in radioactive waste management nonetheless continue to be necessary to develop, maintain and consolidate knowledge throughout the development, operation and closure of disposal facilities, which take place over many decades. This includes ensuring the optimisation of waste-management routes and of disposal solutions, addressing evolving regulatory concerns and gaining and maintaining public confidence.
Getting better and better
The JOPRAD project identified distinct categories of organisations from across the 28 EU Member States, and the two countries associated with the Euratom Framework Programme: Switzerland and Ukraine, with scientific and technical responsibilities and a national mandate for research in radioactive waste management. These include waste management organisations, technical support organisations to regulatory authorities and research entities, as well as other bodies with complementary interests and capabilities.
The project team helped to define the scientific, technical, training and knowledge-sharing activities that should be prioritised under a joint strategic research agenda. Such activities span the development of innovative solutions for different waste streams as well as continuously improving and optimising waste-management routes and disposal solutions; contributing to the responsible and safe management of radioactive waste across all of Europe, including the safe start of operations of new geological disposal facilities for high-level and long-lived radioactive waste and spent fuel, ensuring compliance with European regulations; and gaining or maintaining public confidence and awareness in radioactive waste-management facilities and activities by fostering transparency, credibility and scientific excellence.
By identifying stakeholders with key responsibilities for directing research and development in the field of radioactive waste management, and engaging them in the process of developing a shared vision and the scientific and technical basis for a shared strategic research agenda, JOPRAD has demonstrated the feasibility and the added value of creating a European Joint research Programme on Radioactive Waste Management, Garcia says.
Safe, sustainable solutions
Another key requirement for future joint research will be to address the multidisciplinary skills, knowledge sharing and human resources needed to ensure the availability of knowledge and competence in each Member State to develop, assess, license and operate radioactive waste-management facilities in view of the long lead times and operational lifespans that extend across multiple generations of workers and researchers.
The new European Joint research Programme on Radioactive Waste Management, also known as EURAD, is not intended to replace national programmes. Rather, it complements national efforts and enables effective use of resources by sharing R&D and by making existing knowledge easily available to end-users, Garcia explains.
This is a step change in pan-European research cooperation between EU Member States national programmes to ensure cutting-edge knowledge creation and preservation aimed at delivering safe, sustainable and publicly acceptable solutions for the management of radioactive waste across Europe, both now and in the future, she concludes.