EC proposes new common security rules for management of nuclear waste

The European Commission has put forward on 3 November a proposal for Council Directive including safety standards for disposing spent fuel and radioactive waste from nuclear power plants as well as from medicine or research. With this Directive internationally agreed safety standards become legally binding and enforceable in the European Union.

With the Proposal for a Council Directive on the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste put forward, the Commission aims to establish a common legally binding framework which would be enforced in all Member States in order to ensure that they all apply the common standards developed in the context of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for all stages of spent fuel and radioactive waste management up to final disposal.

Although Member States hold competence for the design of their own energy mix, the European Commission has the competence, under the Euratom Treaty, to protect the general public from ionizing radiation. This Commission's proposal follows the results of a Eurobarometer survey published in April 2010 showing that most EU citizens would welcome European legislation on radioactive waste.

The proposal for Directive asks Member States to present national programmes, indicating when, where and how they will construct and manage final repositories aimed at guaranteeing the highest safety standards.

Proposal for a Council Directive on the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste: key aspects

  • Members States have to draw up national programmes within four years of the adoption of the Directive. These should include: plans for the construction and the management of disposal facilities, laying down a concrete time table for the construction, with milestones and the description of all the activities that are needed to implement the disposal solutions, costs assessments and the financing schemes chosen.
  • National programmes have to be notified. The Commission may ask Member States to modify their plans.
  • Two or more Member States can agree to use a final repository in one of them. It is not allowed to export nuclear waste to countries outside the EU for final disposal.
  • The public must be informed by Member States and there must be room for public participation in the decision making on nuclear waste management.
  • Safety standards drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency become legally binding. This includes an independent authorities which grants licences for building repositories and checks the safety analysis for each individual repository.

The fact is that nuclear waste management, either coming from nuclear power plants, from research or from medical applications, is certainly one of the main issues for most Member States. Nearly 70,000 cubic meters of high level waste are typically produced in the Union every year, which are mostly stored in interim storages.

These interim storages are not a good long-term solution as they require constant maintenance and their situation frequently in the surface is not risk-less. There is a broad consensus among scientists and international organizations such as the IAEA that deep geological disposal is the most appropriate solution for long-term disposal of high level nuclear waste.