Radioactive waste is mainly generated from the production of electricity in nuclear power plants or from the non-power-related use of radioactive materials for medical, research, industrial and agricultural purposes. All EU countries generate radioactive waste, and 21 of them also manage spent fuel on their territory.
Owing to its radiological properties and the potential hazard it poses, it is important to ensure the safe management of radioactive waste at all stages. It requires containment and isolation from humans and the living environment over a long period of time.
Progress has been made in safely disposing of very low level and low level waste in the EU, and so far Finland, France and Sweden have selected sites for the deep geological disposal of intermediate and high level waste from civilian facilities. It is likely that they will open the first repositories for these kinds of waste between 2022 and 2030.
Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management Directive
The EU's Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management Directive requires that:
- EU countries have a national policy for spent fuel and radioactive waste management
- EU countries draw up and implement national programmes for the management of these materials, including the disposal, of all spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste generated on their territory
- EU countries should have in place a comprehensive and robust framework and competent and independent regulatory body, as well as financing mechanisms to ensure that adequate funds are available
- Public information on radioactive waste and spent fuel and opportunities for public participation are available
- EU countries carry out self-assessments and invite international peer reviews of their national framework, competent authorities and/or national programme at least every ten years (by August 2023)
- The export of radioactive waste for disposal in countries outside the EU is allowed only under strict conditions