Exhausted nuclear fuel removed from almost four hundred nuclear power reactors in operation today is piling up, while an increasing number of countries are looking at embarking on a nuclear power programme. Managing spent fuel is an issue that looms ever larger for the nuclear power and nuclear safety sector.
In many ways, spent fuel management remains an open issue because most countries have yet to decide on the fuel´s final destination. No geological repositories are in operation today, so in most cases, spent fuel is and will be stored for ever longer periods above ground.
The IAEA pays particular attention to the issue of spent fuel management. The Agency initiated, promotes and sustains a global safety regime that protects people and the environment from the effects of ionizing radiation. In particular, it actively advocates information collection, analysis and exchange on spent fuel management that contributes to its safe storage from a technological as well as safety point of view.
To address these issues, more than 200 experts from over 40 countries are meeting this week at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna.
"The sort of issues that we are looking at include the development of national strategies, the potential for multinational collaboration, the actual safety demonstration process, the development of international standards, and exchange of experience with the handling and processing of spent fuel," explains Phil Metcalf, who heads the IAEA´s Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management Unit.
"We would like to see what issues are there at an international level, which would help us focus the IAEA´s future programme in this area."
The week-long event is also seen as a forum where problems from the past can be dissected and lessons for the future learned, providing invaluable experience for countries with an established nuclear programme as well as those just moving into nuclear energy.
"We also hope to provide advice to countries developing nuclear power programmes," explains Gary Dyck, Head of the IAEA´s Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Materials Section.
Meetings on spent fuel storage held under the IAEA´s auspices have been every four years since 1987. The most recent international conference on this topic took place in Vienna in June 2006.
The International Conference on Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors will be held in Vienna from 31 May to 4 June 2010.
The event is organized by the IAEA in cooperation with the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA).