EU radioactive waste generation surveyed

Report shows waste arisings lower than predicted in 1993 but due to jump after 2020

The European Union's annual output of nuclear waste is currently almost 40% less than it was predicted to be six years ago, according to a new report by the European Commission.

Released on Friday, the 100-page survey of the state of nuclear waste management in the EU says that the total annual production of radioactive waste in the EU is 50,000 cubic metres (m3). When the last report was published in 1993, the Commission estimated annual waste production for the period between 1991-1995 to be around 80,000m3, and predicted a similar figure for the period 1996-2000.

The Commission, which collates data provided by member states, says the drop is due to a virtual end to the construction of new nuclear plants, the closure of older plants, and better techniques to reduce volumes of waste.

Even without the construction of new nuclear generating capacity, the report warns of a large but unspecified increase in waste volumes in the period 2020-2050 as existing plants come to the end of their lives and have to be decommissioned. Decommissioning a "typical" 1,000MW EU nuclear power station generates 10,000m3 of radioactive waste, according to the Commission.

The report also highlights the fact that the EU still has no facilities for disposing of high-level nuclear waste, all of which is currently in interim storage. The report says there is about 14,000m3 of high-level waste currently being stored in EU countries. This fact prompts the Commission to recommend that any country producing a large quantity of waste should develop the capacity to deal with it on its own territory.

The report claims that the reason countries have not yet gone ahead with creating deep burial facilities is public opposition, rather than lack of technical know-how. "A better programme of public information may help to overcome this lack of acceptance," says the Commission, which promises to continue to "provide information to this purpose".

The report also suggests that there should be an EU standard for when previously radioactive materials should be considered non-radioactive. Currently these "clearance levels" are set, if at all, at national level. The report says this is "clearly not satisfactory" whereas an EU standard would ease the free movement around the EU of, for example, reusable materials from decommissioned plants.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111. References: "The Present Situation and Prospects for Radioactive Waste Management in the European Union," COM(97)799.

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