International Positions

The US has recently taken a decision to proceed with a spent fuel and high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain (IAEA/NSR/2002, 2003; Figure 6.2). This is an important development, which has been met with considerable opposition and challenges to the supporting safety case. The repository will be under the control of the USDOE.

There has also been significant progress in Finland and Sweden. A good review of the important issues is given in Ryhanen (1996) together with a status commentary of the position in Finland, a leading country in developing long-term waste disposal strategies.

Some typical examples of waste disposal principles, identified in Ryhanen (1996) are the following. International recommendations exist for the various stages of waste

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Figure 6.2. Yucca Mountain disposal facility. Source: http://www. nrc. gov.

management, and these are reflected in national legislation, albeit with some specific national modifications. Waste management facilities are licensed by national regulatory bodies. Relevant research, including experimental and theoretical R & D programmes, is conducted to confirm the technologies. An important issue concerns the financing over future years, e. g. one principle is that these costs should be recovered from ongoing electricity revenues, and set aside to guarantee future funds, but finding an appropriate model is an issue in many countries.

It is widely accepted that improved communication is needed to educate the public on the safety of the proposed technologies. It is not always clear what the public’s concerns actually are. It is not always the safety issues that dominate the argument on long-term disposal. Could the presence of a waste disposal site impact on the commercial success of a region, e. g. by militating against the sale of its produce or through an adverse effect on tourism? Is the idea of final disposal less attractive than long-term temporary storage, the latter implying easier monitoring?

Many of the technical issues are complicated, covering wide ranging topics including organisational frameworks and responsibilities, technical details of the disposal, site selection criteria, licensing proceedings, etc. Therefore, an objective in communicating the technical issues to the general public is to make these as simple and straightforward as possible. In Ryhanen (1996), a number of simple observations are suggested. Is the risk of environmental pollution from spent fuel realistically perceived? For example, much of spent fuel is relatively insoluble, its radioactivity decreases with time, it does not radiate to the surface from an underground repository, etc.

Different groups of people need to be targeted in different ways. The most important groups to be targeted are the political decision makers both at national and local levels and the public. In Finland, the Posura Company’s information programme ranges from press conferences, meetings with the municipalities, open houses to the public, exhibitions and lectures. Presentations are tailored to the particular audience and supported by relevant documented material. (Posura is a company that has been established by the Finnish Utilities TVO and IVO to specifically address the issue of the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel.)

It is clear that much understanding and progress has been made towards meeting the concerns of the problem of waste management and the management of spent fuel. However, it is also clear that much work is still required; this will need time and patience if the goal of finding an acceptable long-term solution is to be achieved.

Within Europe, the EC is likely to set a timetable in the near future for Member States to identify sites and to set up repositories for spent fuel and high-level waste disposal. The objective is to accelerate the various delays in decision making on the waste disposal issue that exist in some countries.

OECD/NEA is also encouraging countries to find long-term sustainable solutions to the waste problem (NEA Annual Report, 2002). It is aiming to facilitate improved technical and societal confidence in geological disposal in repositories. Activities in 2002 have included peer reviews of the Belgian and Swiss proposals, workshops on stakeholder involvement and technical reviews on the status of engineered barrier systems and ways in which geological science can be used to support repository safety cases.

The IAEA has recently reviewed the major issues and trends in radioactive waste management (IAEA/NSR/2002, 2003). This review reinforces the importance of the social and political aspects of radioactive waste policy. Issues relate to control of discharges and the availability of a retrieval option from repositories, particularly for spent fuel and high — level waste. A long-established principle is that waste should not impose an ‘undue burden on future generations’. This is now being broadened towards the idea of an ‘obligation’; that the current generation should avoid taking irreversible actions that may mean that certain necessary or desirable future options are not available to future generations.

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