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Safety and Sustainability Implications of Long Term Storage of Radioactive Waste

[+] Author Affiliations
John Rowat

International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria

Paper No. ICEM2003-4548, pp. 1847-1852; 6 pages
doi:10.1115/ICEM2003-4548
From:
  • ASME 2003 9th International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management and Environmental Remediation
  • 9th ASME International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management and Environmental Remediation: Volumes 1, 2, and 3
  • Oxford, England, September 21–25, 2003
  • Conference Sponsors: Nuclear Engineering Division and Environmental Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 0-7918-3732-7 | eISBN: 0-7918-3731-9
  • Copyright © 2003 by ASME

abstract

Storage and disposal of radioactive waste are complementary rather than competing activities, and both are required for the safe management of wastes. Storage has been carried out safely within the past few decades, and there is a high degree of confidence that it can be continued safely for limited periods of time. However, as the amounts of radioactive waste in surface storage have increased, concern has grown over the sustainability of storage in the long term and the associated safety and security implications. In response to these concerns, the IAEA has prepared a position paper [1] that is intended for general readership. This presentation will provide a summary of the position paper, and a discussion of some safety issues for further consideration. A key theme is the contrast of the safety and sustainability implications of long term storage with those of early disposal. A number of factors are examined from different points of view, factors such as safety and security, need of maintenance, institutional control and information transfer, community attitudes and availability of funding. The timing and duration of the process of moving from storage to disposal, which are influenced by factors such as the long timeframes required to implement disposal and changing public attitudes, will also be discussed. The position paper focuses on the storage of three main types of waste: high level waste from the reprocessing of nuclear fuel, spent nuclear fuel that is regarded as waste and long-lived intermediate level radioactive waste. Long term storage of mining and milling waste, and other large volumes of waste from processes involving the use of naturally occurring radioactive materials are not discussed. Specialist meetings were held last year by the IAEA on the sustainability and safety of long-term storage to establish and discuss the issues where a broad consensus exists, and to investigate areas where issues remain unresolved. Within the technical community, it is widely agreed that perpetual storage is not considered to be either feasible or acceptable because of the impossibility of assuring active control over the time periods for which these wastes remain potentially hazardous. For high-level and long-lived radioactive waste, the consensus of the waste management experts is that disposal in deep underground engineered facilities — geological disposal — is the best option that is currently available, or likely to be available in the foreseeable future.

Copyright © 2003 by ASME

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