Nuclear waste is on the global agenda as experts map out common strategies for its safe management and disposal, at a meeting 2-6 July 2007 in Cape Town, South Africa.
About 100 senior policy makers, regulators, operators and technical experts from 30 countries will participate. A key focus of their work is to discuss revision of the way nuclear waste is classified. Right now, there is no common approach among countries to classifying nuclear wastes, and current international standards on classification do not cover wastes like disused sealed sources.
Mr. Phil Metcalf, Head of the IAEA´s Disposable Waste Unit, said it was becoming increasingly important that countries have disposal arrangements in place. "With demands for nuclear power particularly strong in Asia, we also want to make sure that countries wanting to start a nuclear power program, or bring new power plants online, have comprehensive national waste management strategies in place to safely deal with all types of waste generated."
It is estimated that around 200 000 tonnes of spent fuel has accumulated worldwide since nuclear power production began in the 1950s. The world´s stockpiles of spent fuel and high-level waste are currently stored either on-site at the reactors themselves, or in off-site storage facilities. Countries such as Finland and the US have sited areas for the final disposal of their spent fuel in deep, underground repositories. However, as yet, no civilian spent fuel wastes are in a final repository.
Mr. Metcalf said the weeklong workshop provided an international platform "to work towards an internationally harmonized basis for national radioactive waste management policies and to implementing strategies that provided and assure high levels of safety."
Public confidence and transparency are vital to any decision a country takes on where to finally dispose of its high level nuclear wastes. A public forum is scheduled on 4 July 2007 at the Cape Town workshop, to allow interested members of the public to put questions to the world´s experts in nuclear waste disposal.
The bulk of the experts attending the workshop are from countries signatory to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. All 30 countries with a nuclear power program have signed the Joint Convention, with a total of 45 Parties to the Convention. It was the first legal instrument to directly address nuclear waste issues on a global scale, opening for signature in 1997.