IAEA bids for consensus on nuclear waste

International agency sees public rejection as major barrier, proposes new stakeholder forum

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) promised to create a stakeholder forum on high-level radioactive waste disposal on Thursday, at the close of an international conference held in Córdoba, Spain. Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said that public fears over disposal had become the key barrier to progress, and said that a forum should aim to achieve consensus among all stakeholders on geological disposal.

Despite over 40 years of civil nuclear power programmes, no country has yet constructed a permanent disposal site for high-level waste. It is "increasingly clear that the technology for high-level waste disposal, although an essential prerequisite, is not usually the major factor that is limiting progress," Mr ElBaradei told delegates. "Lack of acceptance by the public...as well as by policy makers, continues to be the major hurdle". "The future of high-level waste disposal is, in effect, synonymous with the perceived safety of its disposal," he added.

The importance of public opposition to deep underground disposal of radioactive waste has already been recognised, for example in a report issued last year by the European Commission (ENDS Daily 18 January 1999). The IAEA's pledge to create a forum for discussion could spark renewed progress.

Several countries with nuclear power programmes are researching underground disposal, for example Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. A UK programme was blocked just before the 1997 general election (ENDS Daily 25 July 1997).

Mr ElBaradei said that designing underground disposal sites for waste to be retrievable in the future could be one route to increased confidence but warned that it should not compromise safety. He stressed that gaining acceptance of long-term disposal would require "open and constructive dialogue," which should include "re-examining our own logic in the light of the views of others".

Follow Up:
IAEA, tel: +43 1 2600, and information on the conference.

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