Experts Share Suggestions: How to Improve Decommissioning and Remediation after a Nuclear Accident?

(l-r) Denis Flory, IAEA Deputy Director General for
Safety and Security, and IEM Chairman Carl-Magnus
Larsson talking to the press after the week-long
meeting, Vienna, 1 February 2013.
(Photo: A.Evrensel/IAEA)

Vowing to improve plans to protect the public and the environment from radiation following potential nuclear incidents in the future, more than 200 international experts concluded a week-long forum to share their experience and views. The International Atomic Energy Agency convened the International Experts' Meeting (IEM) on Decommissioning and Remediation After a Nuclear Accident from 28 January to 1 February 2013. The Vienna meeting was part of the Agency's implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety - endorsed by the Agency's General Conference in September 2011 - and was organized by the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security and the Department of Nuclear Energy.

"This has been a very productive meeting," said Chairman Carl-Magnus Larsson, who heads the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. "We heard recommendations for the entire international community."

The discussion revolved around several themes, Larsson added, including:

  • The need for detailed frameworks to provide clear direction about which national organizations are responsible for which aspects of recovering from a nuclear accident;
  • The importance of thorough and sustainable stakeholder interaction to help develop clear lines of responsibility and constructive relationships among the institutions addressing a post-accident situation;
  • The value in formulating appropriate targets for remediation, keeping in mind the public’s perception of radiation risk;
  • The need to develop methods and technologies for decommissioning and remediation, and to improve ways of making those tools widely available; and
  • The challenge of managing damaged fuel and radioactive waste following an accident.
A role for the IAEA

Many of the participants urged the IAEA to act swiftly to review, and revise if necessary, the Agency’s relevant safety standards and guidelines and to enhance the Agency’s peer reviews by adding more comprehensive elements that address remediation.

"These steps are an integral part of the implementation of the Action Plan, and the results of this IEM will be invaluable for strengthening our standards and peer reviews," said IAEA Deputy Director General Denis Flory. "Actions will happen following this IEM."

What the Agency can do

The IEM Chairman summarised four recommendations for future Agency activities broadly related to Action 10 of the Action Plan on Nuclear Safety:

  1. The IAEA should strengthen its programme on remediation after a nuclear accident to assist Member States (MS) to facilitate the return of affected areas to normal conditions.
  2. The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP has highlighted the concern of people to be assured of their safety. The international community should strive to develop a practical definition of ‘safe’ as an aid for communicating with the public.
  3. The Agency should assist MSs with the development of end states and decommissioning strategies for decommissioning of accident damaged facilities.
  4. Large volumes of radioactive and materials with residual amounts of radionuclides are present in many countries. The Agency should review its guidance on the management of these wastes and materials with the view of ensuring their practical application after a nuclear accident.

NEFW, in coordination with NSRW, will contribute to the implementation of items 1, 3 and 4 as these fall under its area of expertise. The NEFW contribution can include the following:

  • Enhancement of some publications in preparation to cover decommissioning, remediation and waste management after an accident;
  • New publications on decommissioning, remediation and waste management after an accident;
  • Decommissioning and remediation peer reviews in MSs with nuclear facilities and/or sites after an accident and in MSs that are going to develop their post-accidental decommissioning and remediation strategies;
  • Other mechanisms of support may include Coordinated Research Projects (CRPs), implementation of demonstration project(s) (Action Plan activity 10.1.3), activities/projects within the International Decommissioning Network (IDN), Network of Environmental Management and Remediation (ENVIRONET) and other WTS networks.
High turnout = Big interest

The fourth IEM attracted more interest than expected: More than 200 participants from 38 countries and five international organisations, namely the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), the European Commission, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) attended the event.

The joint work of the Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology (NEFW) from the Department of Nuclear Energy and the Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety (NSRW) from the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security significantly contributed to the success of the event. Both Divisions appointed Scientific Secretaries and other staff from their Waste Technology Section (WTS) and Waste and Environment Safety Section (WES), respectively, to organise and run the event. Some funding for the invited speakers was also covered by the regular budget of the two sections.

By Greg Webb, Division of Public Information, and Vladimir Michal, Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology

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