Vienna, Austria- The Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management enters into force 18 June 2001, exactly 90 days after the 25th country, Ireland, ratified this first international instrument dedicated to the safe management and storage of spent fuel and radioactive waste.
Argentina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom are all parties to this convention.
The Convention establishes a binding reporting system for these countries and future Contracting Parties to address all measures taken to meet the obligations set out. It is expected that preparatory meetings to finalize the reporting system will be held before the end of the year.
Managing radioactive waste is a national responsibility, but has several international dimensions particularly with respect to transboundary movement of spent nuclear fuel and disused sealed sources. While each country is responsible for establishing how it will manage its radioactive waste, the Joint Convention clearly sets the obligations that regulatory regimes must meet. While the Convention is intended for spent fuel and radioactive waste from civilian sources, it also provides for States to apply the provisions to such waste from military sources.
One of the most controversial waste issues is the disposal of high level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. Public concern centres on where these disposal facilities will be located and whether they will actually be able to control the radioactive waste over the years required. The Convention sets out, not only the requirements for general safety, but also for such areas as siting, design, and construction with the objective that all stages of management, individuals, society, and the environment are adequately protected. In addition to reporting on how they have complied with these requirements, Contracting Parties will also have to demonstrate how they have informed the public and taken steps to protect further generations from consequences greater than those accepted for the current generation.
The Joint Convention is only the latest in a number of initiatives undertaken by the Agency to encourage safe management of spent nuclear fuel.
- Some 13 safety standards have been developed specifically on waste related tonuclear power.
- A number of mechanisms to ensure the applications of these standards internationally are in place including the provision of peer review safety services to appraise the proper application of the standards.
- In March 2000, the first International Conference on The Safety of Radioactive Waste Management was held in Cordoba, Spain, to foster information exchange among scientists, regulators and policy makers; the Conference considered several related issues including siting of high level repositories and retrievibility and reversibility of underground disposal.
- The Agency is working with several Member States to encourage collaboration in underground laboratories devoted to studying disposal of radioactive waste.
Given the importance of the safe management of radioactive waste to current and future generations, the Convention represents an important milestone, not only for furthering international collaboration, but also to ensuring that international standards for protection are put into practice. Regardless of the future of nuclear power or other uses of radioactive materials, there is a significant legacy of waste that must be managed. While each country will make their own decisions on how and where to dispose of waste, the Joint Convention along with other related conventions on nuclear safety, early notification in case of an accident, physical protection of nuclear material, and prevention of marine pollution will improve the safety of radioactive waste management practices in those countries party to these agreements and, hopefully, the confidence of the public at large in those practices.
Another pressing issue is the safe and secure management of radiation sources, notably sealed radioactive sources. Sealed sources are used in a wide variety of medical, agricultural, and industrial applications. Proper management poses special challenges in many developing countries, because there may be fewer resources devoted to managing radiation sources. But proper management is vitally important to protecting the public and preventing environmental contamination. On average each year, three accidents with serious injuries and even death are reported to the Agency worldwide. As a result of this situation, the Agency has undertaken a number of initiatives to try and prevent such occurrences.
- In December 2000, the Agency organized the International Conference of National Regulatory Authorities with Competence in the Safety of Radiation Sources and Radioactive Material in Buenos Aires.
- A technical document on the Handling, Conditioning and Storage of Spent Sealed Radioactive Sources was published.
- In September 2000, the 44th IAEA General Conference endorsed the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources (pdf file) and encouraged Member States to consider appropriate means of ensuring its wide application.
- In October 1999, the 43rd General Conference approved the (pdf file) for the Safety of Radiation Sources and the Security of Radioactive Materials. In March 2001, the Board of Governors requested the Agency to assess the implications of the major finding of the Buenos Aires Conference for the Action plan and implement any adjustments necessary.
- In 1998, the Agency approved a Model Project on upgrading radiation protection infrastructure. This model project is designed to improve infrastructure in 52 Member States, which will hopefully reduce the risk of accidents with radiation sources and improve regulatory control.