Disposal is the final step in the management of radioactive waste. Its aim is to provide safety through emplacement of waste in facilities designed for appropriate levels of containment and isolation. Such facilities are designed and maintained to encompass both natural and engineered barriers for adequate radiation protection of people and environment over long periods of time.

A number of disposal options have been developed for final management of radioactive waste. The options reflect variations in the amount and characteristics of different waste types, the specifics of national legislation and geological differences.

The development of IAEA Safety Standards and activities related to their use and application are aimed towards securing the best possible benefit to the IAEA Member States. 

International projects and working groups are organized to work towards harmonization of approaches to the safety of radioactive waste disposal, and to provide a forum for exchanges for the Member States. Examples of such international projects include the PRISM project,  dealing with the demonstration of safety of near surface disposal facilities and the GEOSAF project that focuses on the demonstration of operational and long term safety of geological disposal facilities and the development of a specific programme on the disposal of high level waste and spent fuel. Another example of related activity is the HIDRA project, dedicated to human intrusion aspects in the safety assessment of near surface disposal facilities in their post-closure phase.

With the increasing use of nuclear power generation and the widespread use of radioisotopes for beneficial purposes in research, industry, medicine and agriculture, there is a growing need for sharing information and knowledge on disposal approaches. To support Member States in developing disposal programmes and solutions, the IAEA assists within the following areas:

  • Establishment of disposal programmes within the framework of an integrated national radioactive waste management infrastructure
  • Development of near surface and geological disposal facilities, including borehole disposal for disused sealed radioactive sources
  • Preservation and dissemination of development, operational and post-operational knowledge in waste disposal
  • Upgrading of near-surface repositories
  • Provision of training in the application of waste disposal technologies and enhancing communications between professionals in radioactive waste disposal through the use of Networks (DISPONET and URF Network)
  • Addressing scientific, technical, institutional and socio-political issues through stakeholder involvement to support confidence building.

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