Nuclear waste management and decommissioning

Nuclear waste management and decommissioning

Radioactive waste management in the EU has its legal basis through the EURATOM treaty and the recently adopted “Waste Directive” (2011/70/EURATOM). The Directive provides for Responsible and Safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. It builds on a series of internationally accepted principles, in particular that present and future generations shall be protected without imposing undue burdens on future generations. Consequently, the end-point for radioactive waste management is disposal, providing passive and robust safety features. The JRC is directly contributing to the implementation of this Directive by supporting the European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) in establishing Guidance to the Member States on how to implement this Directive. Support to the technical implementation of the nuclear waste directive is provided to Member States and EC stakeholders. Dedicated facilities produce high quality experimental data, aiming at reducing uncertainties associated with safe handling, long-term storage and final disposal in a geologic repository of nuclear waste, and at implementing safe decommissioning. 

A remaining key challenge is the long term disposal of high-level waste. The amount and type of such waste depends on the respective national nuclear programme and the type of fuel cycle used. The current two main spent fuel management options are reprocessing and direct disposal in deep geological repositories, or a mixture of both.

Industrial reprocessing in France and UK which has been ongoing for several decades could be extended to cope with future needs. In other countries the fuel cycle policies vary, with geological disposal also at an advanced state in Finland, Sweden and again France. In several Member States long-term storage (up to a few hundred years) of spent fuel as well as irretrievability and recoverability requirements are being considered.

The JRC is a key partner in FP7 networks, dealing with the development of advanced nuclear fuel cycles including the separation and incineration of long-lived waste constituents for conversion into short-lived isotopes, thus decreasing the time-window for geological disposal safety concerns. Within this context and in response to needs expressed by Member States, JRC-ITU is conducting investigations on spent fuel rods and waste forms. Processes that may impair nuclear waste integrity are identified by subjecting samples to accelerated ageing, and characterising them by applying a broad set of experimental methods, ranging from analysis of microstructural mechanisms and processes to macroscopic property measurements.

The corrosion behaviour of nuclear waste exposed to water during cooling, storage, or in a geologic repository is studied. Effects associated with waste composition and history, coupled to conditions and processes characterising the local environment and extrapolated to the timeframe of interest for the corrosion process (up to millions of years for final disposal!) are investigated. The goal is to define a comprehensive picture to predict the behaviour of this complex system.

Decommissioning of nuclear facilities has reached industrial maturity. A challenge is that a large number of nuclear facilities reach the end of their useful life in the coming decades and so large amounts of decommissioning waste will arise. The JRC is cooperating with industry in improving governance, cooperation and technology in this field. 

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