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Addressing Radioactive Waste

IAEA Scientific Forum 2014

The IAEA Scientific Forum on Radioactive Waste Management opened, exploring the dimensions of radioactive waste and its effective management, 23 September 2014. (Photo: M. Madsen/IAEA) 

More than 300 participants crowded the room in which this year's Scientific Forum started on 23 September 2014 at the IAEA's Headquarters. The two-day Forum, entitled Radioactive Waste: Meeting the Challenge - Science and Technology for Safe and Sustainable Solutions, is the largest side event held during the IAEA's 58th General Conference in Vienna, Austria. It has brought together experts and organizations from around the world to discuss integrated approaches to radioactive waste management, highlighting safe, sustainable and viable waste management solutions.

In his opening remarks to the Scientific Forum, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano highlighted how nuclear technologies have a number of benefits for people worldwide and welcomed the opportunity to present and explore the topic of safety and sustainability in radioactive waste management.

"It was 14 years ago that the Scientific Forum last considered the management of radioactive waste," he said. "I thought it important to return to this subject because the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology has grown steadily in that time, as has the amount of radioactive material that needs to be managed safely."

Many Member States already use nuclear tools and applications in many forms and "it is the responsiblity of each country to safely and securely dispose of its waste," he added. "Radioactive waste is an issue for all countries. If a country decides to use nuclear technologies, from day one it must consider how to deal with its waste."

Mr. Amano noted: "There is a widespread misperception about radioactive waste, which is that solutions for managing it safely and effectively simply do not exist. That is not correct. Well-established technologies do exist to address this issue." He explained that the solutions are already being implemented by many Member States and that States can learn from each other with the IAEA assisting in building their capacities.

"This Scientific Forum is an opportunity to demonstrate how the IAEA can support Member States in developing and implementing safe and sustainable waste management solutions," he explained. "It is also an opportunity to give a wider public audience a greater awareness of the challenges of managing radioactive waste and to show that solutions do exist."

Day one of the 2014 Scientific Forum took participants on a journey through radioactive waste management, from its generation to storage, emphasizing that different waste classes need solutions adapted to the level of risk they present. Participants also enjoyed the premiere of the new IAEA short film, Radioactive Waste: The Journey to Disposal.

Throughout the meeting sessions IAEA safety standards and security guidance, as well as technical reports and education and training courses were often noted by presenters as important tools for effectively furthering progress in the areas of radioactive waste management.

The Forum sessions underscored the importance of planning and considering all dimensions of radioactive waste management, including safeguards, security and economic considerations of radioactive waste management both in the short and long term.

"Having a plan from the beginning is essential," said Allison M. Macfarlane, Chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S. NRC). She explained how integrated approaches account for management of radioactive waste from "cradle-to-grave", or from its generation to its disposal, which can "save money, time and stress" when countries are using nuclear technologies and managing their waste.

"Recognizing that these materials will be hazardous for tens to hundreds of thousands of years," said William Magwood, Director General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), "we must prepare as best we can for future generations."

The Forum, which can be viewed live on the IAEA website, enjoyed vivid debates after each session that engaged both the panellists and the audience.

Following the journey metaphore, the second day of the Scientific Forum will focus on disposal of radioactive waste, including deep geological disposal. It will also address how future nuclear technologies such as better use of nuclear fuel, innovative fuels, and advanced reactors and fuel cycles, could affect future waste management. Public perceptions of science, technology and risk and their influence on managing waste will also be addressed.

Last update: 05 Sep 2017

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