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IAEA Conference on Sustainable Solutions in Radioactive Waste Management Opens


Participants from around the world are discussing solutions for the safe and responsible management of radioactive waste at the IAEA International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management: Solutions for a Sustainable Future, which opened today at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

Almost all countries use nuclear technologies to advance sustainable development through cancer therapies, improving crop yields and many other applications. Thirty-two countries also use nuclear power. Safe, secure and responsible management of the waste arising from these activities underpins the continued use of nuclear technology, and conference participants will review progress and the latest practices in dealing with radioactive waste.

Approximately 38 million m3 of solid radioactive waste has been produced globally, of which 30.5 million m3 has been disposed of permanently and a further 7.2 million m3 is in storage awaiting final disposal. Globally, about 95% of the volume of radioactive waste is made up of low level and very low level waste.

High level waste, arising from nuclear plant operations (spent fuel when declared as waste or conditioned waste when the spent fuel is recycled) makes up less than 3% of the total volume of nuclear waste, and requires disposal in geological repositories several hundred meters underground. Finland’s high-level nuclear waste disposal facility at Olkiluoto, which will soon become the world’s first operational deep geological repository for high level waste, was highlighted by opening speakers as a proof of progress in waste management and a game changer for the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy.

“We have solutions for a sustainable future, just like the title of this conference says,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in taped opening remarks to the conference, which runs until 5 November. “Not only are these solutions being implemented today, but the nuclear industry has successfully managed waste processing and disposal for more than half a century.”

The conference, which includes both in-person and virtual participation, will hear how the design and operation of nuclear installations is minimizing the amount of radioactive waste generated and how innovative technologies are improving processing and recycling. They will also hear the experience of operating facilities on how low and intermediate level waste is managed.

“The aim of this conference is to focus on lessons learned, practical experience – things that you can take away and use to demonstrate progress and take concrete action on in your respective countries,” said Karen Wheeler, CEO of the UK’s Radioactive Waste Management Limited and a co-chair of the conference. “Radioactive waste remains a topic of real concern and even fear for the public … and it’s our responsibility to not only find and implement effective and safe solutions, but also to communicate and reassure the public in all of our countries that we can handle, manage and dispose of radioactive waste safely and securely.”

As part of this conference, the IAEA called for and received scores of abstracts and papers covering all fields of radioactive waste management, including from research and education as well as industrial, agricultural and medical fields. “We will showcase research and development across the broad spectrum of technological challenges, from lab trials and bespoke development to novel use of off-the-shelf items and their adaptive developments,” said Muhammad Naeem, Chairman of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission and co-chair of the conference.

Attendees comprise senior government officials, high-level staff from waste management organizations, regulators, operators and other stakeholders, as well as technical and scientific experts working in all areas of radioactive waste management. In addition, there are representatives from across industry and civil society, non-governmental organisations and academic institutions, with significant participation by women, young professionals and individuals from developing countries at the conference.

“Society places its confidence in the global expertise of the people attending this conference – you. I am confident that you will continue to push forward in addressing our present and future responsibilities. Because only when nuclear waste is managed successfully can nuclear science and technology contribute to a sustainable future for everyone,” Mr Grossi said.

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