Europe steps towards shared repository concept

11 February 2009

Following several years of preliminary work, 14 European countries have set up a working group to consider establishing a European Repository Development Organisation (ERDO) to collaborate on nuclear waste disposal.
 
The proposal for a "staged, adaptive implementation strategy" for an ERDO results from the EC-sponsored SAPIERR Project (Strategic Action Plan for Implementation of European Regional Repositories), which held its final symposium on 27 January in Brussels. The results of studies on the viability of shared, regional European geological repositories were presented to 50 participants from 21 countries. The aspects considered included organisational and legal issues, economic impacts, safety and security considerations, and public and political attitudes to multinational repositories.
 
The 14 countries backing the proposal are: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
 
The ERDO proposal will involve forming a consensus on what the ERDO should look like, using the SAPIERR findings as a starting point. This model will then be presented to potentially interested countries in about two years' time, so that they can decide whether and when to set up the ERDO and whether they wish to be part of it.
 
The secretariat will be provided by the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage (Arius), based in Switzerland, and the administration by the Netherlands waste agency, COVRA.
 
Arius was set up in 2002 as a non-commercial body to promote the concept of regional and international facilities for storage and disposal of all types of long-lived nuclear wastes. A key objective is to explore ways of providing shared storage and disposal facilities for smaller users. Membership is open and comprises countries with small nuclear programs as well as industrial organisations with relevant interests.
 
In 2002, a European Commission (EC) Directive said that geological disposal of radioactive wastes was preferred and that "A regional approach, involving two or more countries, could also offer advantages especially to countries that have no or limited nuclear programs, insofar as it would provide a safe and less costly solution for all parties."
 
In mid-2003, Arius initiated the SAPIERR Pilot Project for European Regional Repositories, which obtained EC approval. This was undertaken over two years to 2005 to help the EC grapple with the regional repository issue as flagged earlier in the EC Radioactive Waste Directive. It allowed potential options for regional collaboration and for regional repositories to be identified, though it did not extend to site identification. Slovakia provided the project coordination.
 
Following this pilot study, a new EC-funded SAPIERR project to assess the feasibility of European regional waste repositories was commenced in September 2006, indicating recognition in the EU that implementing 25 national repositories is not optimal economically or for safety and security.

 

The SAPIERR project is in line with proposals from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Russia and the USA (with GNEP) for multilateral cooperation in the fuel cycle in order to enhance global security. Shared repositories for high-level nuclear wastes are an important element of this.
 

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