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Where's RadWaste Headed?

Public opinion is one factor driving decisions about radioactive waste management (Credit: L. Wedekind/IAEA)

World experts are meeting at the IAEA in Vienna this week for the International Conference on Issues and Trends in Radioactive Waste Management. A main topic is the safe management of radioactive waste, including technologically and environmentally sound solutions for disposing of radioactive wastes that must be isolated for centuries. The concluding session is scheduled for Friday, 13 December.

The conference will examine a range of issues, with the aim to promote international coherence on strategies to resolve them. Several ongoing international initiatives are aimed at finding economic and safe management solutions. One topic of growing concern is the handling of disused radioactive sources once used for industrial and commercial applications. Finding ways to safely manage these sources presents particular challenges for smaller countries with limited resources.

Senior policy makers, regulators, technical experts and representatives from non-governmental organizations will also examine progress on underground waste disposal. The major event in 2002 for radioactive waste disposal was the approval Yucca Mountain site in the USA as a repository for high-level waste and spent fuel. The Finnish Parliament, in 2001, also decided in principle to go forward with a deep disposal facility.

Several issues regarding underground disposal still remain to be resolved. For example, the conference will consider the safety implications of retrieving the waste from repositories, how to accommodate nuclear safeguards requirements, and the long-term storage of radioactive waste.

The Conference opens with keynote addresses by distinguished experts, and includes several round table discussions. Other topics being addressed include:

  • Public attitudes to radioactive waste and the importance of the involvement of stakeholders;
  • The management of radioactive waste from past eras, older storage and disposal systems – the situations and the solutions;
  • Retention of knowledge concerning radioactive waste disposal;
  • Policies on the discharge of low level effluents – status and trends;
  • The Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management – what can be achieved though this mechanism; and
  • Standards and regulations for radioactive waste management – where is consensus lacking?

The Conference is organized by the IAEA in cooperation with the European Commission and the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Last update: 27 July 2017