Nuclear waste export banned
EU will not grant funds for the purpose
Maria Koleva, Brussels
5 November, 2010
A draft Directive announced by the EC calls for each of the EU's 27 Member States to draw up a national programme with plans and schedules for constructing and managing final spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste repositories, regardless of whether it has nuclear energy facilities or not. It stipulates that nuclear waste exports from Member States to non-EU countries is not permitted. Except as a byproduct of energy production by nuclear power plants, gas, liquid and solid nuclear waste is generated through application of radioactive isotopes in medicine, industry, agriculture, as well as by research nuclear reactors. The EU sets the rules for EU nations to build long-term disposal facilities observing high safety standards. Of all modern technologies, deep geological storage at 3,000m underground is the safest, experts say. It does not require additional human attendance and, in effect, can hold nuclear waste infinitely. The Directive, however, does not set the depth the facilities have to be built at. This will be up to every nation to decide accounting for specific geological characteristics of the storage sites provided safety is guaranteed. The new legislation does not rule out the possibility for a number of countries to agree to use the final repository in one of them. EU energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, who proposed the draft, underscored that repository funding is the responsibility of the power plants or national funds in some cases.Explaining the grounds for the export ban, the Commissioner pointed that storage of such waste in third countries is beyond EU control and there are potential risks of higher threat of accidents and radioactive pollution. Exports suspension affects directly Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic, which ship their spent fuel wastes to Russia. Roughly 7,000 cu m of highly radioactive waste are produced by EU countries each year. That waste, which, scientists say, can take up to a million years to decay, is largely stored in interim facilities with a life-span of 50 to 100 years. Finland, Sweden and France lead the way with developed plans for new storage to become operational in in 2020, 2023 and 2025.Under the Directive, every country has to inform the society and allow people to participate in taking the decisions about the place and the way to build nuclear waste storage facilities. Commissioner Oettinger pointed the example set by Sweden, where the debate on the repository location was so transparent and involved citizens in more than 60 consultations that two municipalities opted to fund researches and competed to host the facility. At present, 14 EU nations have a total of 143 functioning nuclear plants. Despite the forecasts indicate nuclear energy share will shrink while the usage of renewable energy resources in EU will be stepped up over the next 10-15 years, nuclear plant construction is planned in the currently “non-nuclear” Poland and Italy and Sweden and the UK will build new reactors. About 2 months ago, the German government took a decision to extend the lifespan of nuclear energy in the country by 2034.The European Council is expected to pass the Directive in 2011. Then, the Member States will have 2 years to adopt it into their national legislation. This means that by the end of 2015, Member States need to have their radioactive waste management plans ready.
There are 143 nuclear power plants in EU member States at present.