Optimisation of radioactive waste management

Sustainable solutions for radioactive waste management include three key elements: i) environmental protection, which is ensured through state-of-the-art science and technology; ii) economics, based on appropriate funding mechanisms and cost optimisation; and iii) society, in which ethics, social trust and public confidence are reflected in all activities of waste management.

“Waste management begins before waste production” – integrated waste management needs to consider the whole life-cycle of the programme from plant and fuel design to decommissioning and remediation of all nuclear facilities. The overall system for radioactive waste management, from generation to disposal, has to be optimised holistically, with strong co-ordination between all stakeholders including developers, regulators, operators, policymakers, waste management organisations and an informed and vigilant civil society.

There is no universal solution for optimal waste management applicable to all countries, stakeholders and stages of life-cycle, due to various country-specific technical and non-technical factors. The success of optimisation is determined by a high degree of everyone’s willingness to compromise and the ability to understand others in their own organisation as well as authorities and public perspective and to find a solution based on a reconciled goal that is acceptable to everyone.

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NEA work on this topic

The issue of optimising radioactive waste management is complex and largely unexplored. There is a need to optimise the whole system (from facility and fuel design to disposal of wastes), including the part-by-part optimisation applied in some areas.

For this purpose, the NEA Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC) is co-operating closely with other NEA standing technical committees to deal with different aspects of optimisation, including the Committee on Decommissioning of Nuclear installations and Legacy Management (CDLM) , the Regulators’ Forum (RF), the Committee on Radiological Protection and Public Health (CRPPH), the Nuclear Development Committee (NDC) , the Nuclear Law Committee (NLC) as well as the Nuclear Science Committee (NSC), including the NEA Data Bank (DB).

The NEA’s objectives in this area are to:

  • achieve a common understanding on the “optimisation” of a radioactive waste management programme
  • review existing national experience in the optimisation of radioactive waste management and identify members’ needs and challenges
  • examine the impact of various factors in the fuel-cycle system for the optimisation of radioactive waste management (i.e. legal, technical, economic, societal, etc.)
  • identify methodologies to achieve either partial or total optimisation of radioactive waste programmes
  • support the optimisation of national radioactive waste management programmes