Norway taps overseas expertise for waste disposal

10 February 2020

The Norwegian Nuclear Decommissioning (NND) agency has signed cooperation agreements with Finland's AINS Group and France's Orano on building a repository for the disposal of used fuel and waste from the decommissioning of Norway's two shutdown research reactors.

The JEEP-II research reactor at Kjeller (Image: IFE)

Established as an agency under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries in February 2018, NND is responsible for decommissioning research reactors and other related nuclear infrastructure, as well as the safe handling, storage and disposal of radioactive waste.

Norway's two research reactors - the nuclear fuel and materials testing reactor at Halden and the JEEP-II neutron scattering facility at Kjeller - were declared permanently shut down in June 2018 and April 2019, respectively. Their ownership and responsibility for them will move to NND from the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE).

NND said one of its most important tasks will be to establish a repository for the disposal of all of Norway's radioactive waste. This, it noted, includes the high-activity long-lived used fuel from the two research reactors, waste from their decommissioning, as well as radioactive sources from medicine, research and industry. Norway has about 17 tonnes of nuclear fuel, which is currently stored at Halden and Kjeller. While some of this fuel could be placed directly into a repository, around 10 tonnes of it is unstable metallic fuel whose properties "make it difficult to find a safe and long-term solution for this waste". NND said it will investigate whether it is possible to chemically treat this fuel to make it more stable.

NND signed a cooperation agreement with Orano on 6 January to investigate the technical possibilities and challenges of chemically treating the fuel at la Hague reprocessing plant in France. It will also enter into an agreement with Sweden's Studsvik AB to undertake similar studies of an alternative method for stabilising the fuel. NND is also looking at the opportunities and challenges of disposing of the fuel in its current state, with chemical stabilisation.

"Based on these studies, and studies that these two companies have previously conducted on behalf of IFE, NND will come up with a proposal for a comprehensive solution for Norwegian fuel," it said.

An agreement was also signed between NND and AINS Group on 22 January for cooperation in developing a radioactive waste repository.

"AINS and its partners (Finland's VTT and Germany's federal radioactive waste company, BGE) have long experience in developing and planning similar facilities," NND said. "Among other things, they have been heavily involved in the development of the world's first deep-geological repository for spent nuclear fuel, which is now being built in Olkiluoto, Finland."

There is a combined storage and disposal facility for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste (KLDRA) in Himdalen in Aurskog/Høland. Here, waste from Norwegian industry, health care and defence is stored, as well as waste from IFE. KLDRA is currently run by IFE and is funded through the state budget. It is owned by Statsbygg. NND will eventually also take over ownership and operation of this facility.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News