Amano: "Safe, Sustainable, Viable Waste Management"

Director General Yukiya Amano at the
2013 Scientific Forum.
(Photo: D.Calma/IAEA)

15 April 2014 | Director General Yukiya Amano announced at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting on 3 March 2014 that the next Scientific Forum would focus on the technology of radioactive waste management. NEFW Newsletter interviewed him on the Forum, which will be held on 23 and 24 September 2014 during the 58th General Conference.

Why have you chosen radioactive waste management as the theme of the next Scientific Forum?

Radioactive waste management must be addressed by all Member States that use nuclear technologies for agriculture, food, health, industry, research, water management or the generation of nuclear power.

Safe and sustainable management of different classes of radioactive waste – and of spent nuclear fuel if it is declared as waste – requires the use of a range of tried-and-proven as well as innovative technologies. That’s why I decided to focus the next Scientific Forum on the technologies for the management of all types of radioactive waste. More specifically, I wanted to provide a platform for experts to discuss both the challenges and solutions to radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel management.

Is this Scientific Forum focused on waste from nuclear power plants or from other uses of nuclear technology?

Both. Nuclear technologies are widely used in food and agriculture, medicine, industry and research. So the Forum will be interesting for all the IAEA Member States that have to manage such institutional radioactive waste.

And of course, technological developments in waste management, including in the geological disposal of high level waste and spent nuclear fuel, will be of direct interest to the 30 Member States operating nuclear power plants today, as well as to the similar number of countries that have decided to launch nuclear power programmes or are considering doing so.

What do you want to achieve through this Scientific Forum?

The objective is to take stock of the management of all types of radioactive waste worldwide and to show that solutions exist in many cases and that challenges are being handled.

Many people outside the nuclear field think that no safe solutions exist for managing their radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. This general perception cannot be ignored and requires attention from multiple angles. One angle needs to focus on promoting the sound governance of any project involving a nuclear installation or the handling of radioactive material. Another one needs to maintain focus on providing solutions “that work”.

Available solutions can be readily illustrated when reviewing the successive steps of radioactive waste management. Waste characterization, treatment and conditioning are well mastered and are carried out safely, using tried and proven technologies. Radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel have been transported by road, rail or sea, as warranted. They have been safely stored in dedicated facilities for decades now.

Furthermore, disposal programmes have been successfully implemented for very low level, low level, and intermediate level waste, which make up most of the world’s radioactive waste. Safe disposal of the former two can be achieved with near-surface disposal facilities. As their name indicates, these are located at or near the surface and their concepts rely on the use of engineered barriers, such as waste forms and containers, vaults or silos, liners and covers. Safe disposal of intermediate level waste requires a geological disposal facility.

Geological disposal of high level waste and spent nuclear fuel declared as waste has not yet been licensed. One cannot say that this is an available, nor a tried-and-proven solution. However, there has been substantial work and developments on its safety, as well as on the technical feasibility of construction, operation and closure. Several Member States are at or near the licensing stage.

How does the IAEA assist Member States?

Our goal is to support Member States in adopting technically sound and safe solutions for managing all types of radioactive waste. Technical experts from the Departments of Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Safety and Security, Nuclear Sciences and Applications, as well as Technical Cooperation implement IAEA support in many ways. We develop safety standards and guidance, we publish technical reports, and we organize training courses, workshops and technical meetings to assist with safe and sustainable implementation of national radioactive waste management.

The IAEA Network of Underground Research Facilities for Geological Disposal (URF) and the International Low Level Waste Disposal Network (DISPONET) are examples of the tools we have put in place to share information on state-of-the-art approaches to radioactive waste disposal. As far as safety demonstration is concerned, the IAEA’s projects on Demonstrating the Safety of Geological Disposal (GEOSAF) and on Practical Illustration and Use of the Safety Case Concept in the Management of Near-Surface Disposal (PRISM) are also key parts of our toolbox.

What is the biggest concern when dealing with radioactive waste?

For radioactive waste and spent fuel management to be effective, it must address safety, security, technical feasibility and involve stakeholders. It should be clearly understood that responsible use of nuclear technology includes the safe and responsible management of the radioactive waste generated. There should be clear frameworks allocating responsibilities. Comprehensive national strategies should cover disposal solutions for the entire national inventory of radioactive waste. There should be adequate, sustained human and financial resources. Stakeholders should be involved and it should be demonstrated that disposal is a safe solution.

What results do you expect from the Scientific Forum?

I expect the Scientific Forum to contribute to the sharing of knowledge and experience among all Member States on how to manage radioactive waste, adapted to their national circumstances. I hope participants will gain a better understanding of the challenges involved. Renowned experts and organizations in waste management will share their specific expertise through presentations, discussion panels and exhibits. We will also use the opportunity to emphasize how the IAEA can support Member States in developing and implementing safe, sustainable, viable waste management solutions.

Interview: Stefan Joerg Mayer & Ayhan Evrensel, Department of Nuclear Energy

This interview was first published in the March 2014 issue of the NEFW Newsletter.

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