IAEA assesses Slovenia's radwaste programme

07 June 2022

Slovenia has a "comprehensive, robust and well-functioning system" for used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management, a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded. However, it noted areas where it could be further enhanced.

Slovenia's Krško nuclear power plant (Image: NEK)

The Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (Artemis) mission took place on 22-30 May. Artemis missions provide independent expert opinion and advice, drawn from an international team of specialists convened by the IAEA. Reviews are based on the IAEA safety standards and technical guidance, as well as international good practices.

The mission - hosted by Slovenia's Agency for Radwaste Management (ARAO) - was requested by the country's government to fulfil its European Union obligations that require an independent review of EU Member States' national programmes for the management of radioactive waste and used nuclear fuel. The team comprised five experts from Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Sweden and the UK, supported by two IAEA staff members, with observers from the European Commission and the Czech Republic.

The team held meetings with representatives from ARAO, the Krško nuclear power plant, the Slovenian Nuclear Safety Administration (SNSA) and the fund for financing the decommissioning of the Krško plant and the disposal of its radioactive waste and used nuclear fuel.

Slovenia has one nuclear power plant, Krško, which is co-owned by neighbouring Croatia and provides almost 40% of Slovenia's electricity. Slovenia also has one research reactor and a radioactive waste facility, and uses radiation in industry, research and education applications.

Most low and intermediate-level waste in Slovenia originates from operations at Krško and are stored on site. Other radioactive material comes from medical, industrial and research activities and is kept at the country's Central Storage Facility for Radioactive Waste. Construction of a silo-type disposal facility for low and intermediate-level waste at Vrbina, near the Krško plant, is planned to begin this year and be operational by 2024. Slovenia is considering deep geological disposal of used fuel from Krško together with other high-level wastes generated from the plant and the used fuel from its research reactor.

The Artemis mission was organised back-to-back with an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission, which took place 3-14 April. "It was the first time that IRRS and Artemis missions were held back-to-back and we will use the experience and lessons learned for future missions," said Anna Clark, Head of the Waste and Environmental Safety Section in the IAEA Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety.

The Artemis team said Slovenia will need to meet a number of critical milestones and objectives within the next years as its programme for the management of radioactive waste and used fuel expands. It found the country is committed to the proactive pursuit of a wide range of opportunities for waste minimisation across all radioactive waste.

"The Slovenian system covers all steps in the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, with many related facilities already being in place or under advanced development," said Artemis team leader Michael Egan, Senior Analyst at the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. "The Artemis review team noted that the Slovenian counterpart is aware and committed to address the challenges in managing the operational and decommissioning waste from the Krško plant by planning and developing the infrastructure that is needed."

The team also made a few recommendations and suggestions, including: the government should ensure effective coordination among all stakeholders in the national programme in order to meet any challenges that arise as Slovenia develops arrangements for a final disposal repository at Vrbina; in addressing the recommendations from the earlier IRRS mission with regard to human resources for SNSA, the review team suggests to the government that consideration should be given to the particular human resources needs of both SNSA and ARAO in meeting their responsibilities for safe radioactive waste and used fuel  management; and ARAO should consider further developing decision criteria to facilitate selection of a preferred disposal strategy for high-level waste and used fuel.

"We are very grateful to receive this independent review with valuable advice, suggestions and recommendations which will help us to improve the safe management of radioactive waste," said Leon Kegel, Slovenian National Liaison Officer for the Artemis mission to Slovenia. "The expert technical perspectives will support our work in decommissioning, radioactive waste and spent fuel management, organisational performance, safety and security, and operations, and will improve transparency and stakeholder confidence and strengthen our decision-making processes."

The mission team will submit its final report to the Slovenian government in about two months.

In its annual report for 2021, published on 7 June, Krško operator Nuklearna Elektrarna Krško noted the construction of a used fuel dry storage facility at the site is ongoing. "We plan to complete the building by the end of 2022 and the first 592 fuel elements to be moved from the used fuel pool into dry storage is planned in the first half of the next year," it said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News