A year in waste30 October 2000
The Uranium Institute reports the considerable progress made in the past year in radioactive waste management around the world.
The AECB approved modular above-ground storage (MAGS) at Chalk River Laboratories in November 1999, and the C$3 million project began in January 2000. The system will include a supercompactor that will reduce the total volume of waste by a factor of 20. Low-level wastes will be sorted, compacted and packaged in metal containers. Up to ten storage buildings will be built, each with a capacity to store up to two years of low-level waste generated all over Canada. Phase one of the upgrade to the liquid wastes treatment system at Chalk River is complete and it came into service in March 2000. The system includes a new liquid waste evaporator.
Ontario Power Generation got the go-ahead from the AECB to build a used fuel dry storage facility at its Bruce plant. OPG will have to apply separately to operate the facility.
Also in Canada, approximately one million m3 of historic low-level radioactive waste from the former uranium refining and conversion facility are to be cleared up and stored in three long-term storage facilities. The facilities will be sited in the municipalities of Clarington, Hope Township and Port Hope. They will be engineered to last for 500 years and will cost C$230 million. Completion of the full project will take around ten years.
In January 2000, the three Czech repositories, Dukovany, Bratrstvi and Jachymov, were transferred to state ownership ahead of the summer deadline that had been stipulated in new atomic law.
The central interim storage facility at Dukovany went ahead as planned, with the regulator licensing the use of a new Skoda 440/84 cask and allowing CEZ, the operator, to expand storage capacity.
Finland looks like it will be the first country to actually start building an underground HLW repository. The government is expected to confirm Eurojoki as a suitable site for the disposal of spent fuel from Loviisa and Olkiluoto, and construction should begin there by 2010. The Finnish public within the Eurojoki region overwhelmingly supported the application (78% of the population were in favour of it) and the next stage requires a decision in principle from the Finnish Council of State. The site is expected to be ready for commissioning in 2020. In the meantime, Fortum will extend its own storage pools at Loviisa for the second time.
In 1998, following the French surface contamination incident of a spent fuel consignment from EDF’s Bugey plant, several licensing authorities banned the transports of spent fuel. The Swiss authority lifted its ban in mid-1999, and since then ten shipments of spent fuel have reached La Hague.
The French waste agency ANDRA is still working on the Est site selected in December 1998 for the construction and operation of an underground research laboratory. Digging and servicing works began on 1 February 2000.
The first vitrified residues transport from Cogema La Hague to Dessel in Belgium was completed on 5 April 2000. Two further transports are planned from France to Belgium before Spring 2001.
The government has decided to phase out nuclear power over the next 25 years and to delay exploration work on the Gorleben salt dome for three to ten years, so 16 interim storage facilities for spent fuel will be required in addition to the four existing facilities at Ahaus, Gorleben, ZNL near Grenwald and Obrigheim. Twelve applications are still pending for Lingen, Brokdorf, Unterwester, Stade, Grohnde, Krummel, Brunsbuttel, Biblis, Neckarwestheim, Philippsburg, Grafenrhienfeld and Isar. The construction of the Karsruhe Vitrification Facility is going ahead as planned following the issue of its construction licence in 1999. The facility is expected to be opened by 2004.
Transporting nuclear materials, even within national boundaries, remains a charged issue but mid-1999 saw the situation ease for shipments in the country, authorisations for domestic transport to Ahaus were issued in February 2000, to Neckarwestheim and Phillippsburg. The transport of these casks, which are already loaded, has not begun but is expected before the end of 2000. Transporting nuclear materials outside the country’s borders remains prohibited.
In December 1999, the government outlined plans for nuclear decommissioning and waste management, identifying three main goals:
•All onsite radioactive waste should be treated and conditioned within the next ten years with a view to subsequent trasport to a national repository.
•Site selection and construction of a national repository for the disposal of LLW and ILW should be accomplished within ten years. The site should also be suitable for the interim storage of long-lived LLW, ILW and spen fuel and residues from former reprocessed fuel.
•Plant decommissioning, with a view to returning the sites to green field status, should be achieved within the next 20 years.
The measures outlined in the plan are estimated to cost a total of $3 billion.
The government passed its nuclear waste bill and came up with a framework for the final disposal of HLW, which has been presented to the Upper House. In Japan, the Pacific Swan, a purpose-built nuclear carrier operated by Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL), has completed its fifth shipment of vitrified waste from France to Japan. The vessel, carrying four casks containing 104 canisters of residue from spent fuel reprocessing, left the French port of Cherbourg in December 1999, and arrived at the northern Japanese port of Mutsu Ogawara three months later. The storage centre has now received 272 canisters, from five shipments.
In Korea, a pilot cold crucible vitrification plant has opened in Taejon. The facility, developed by SGN Nuclear Engineering in conjunction with NETEC (a division of Kepco), uses a process developed by the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). It will demonstrate the technical feasibility and economic viability of using the process on intermediate and low-level waste, particularly ion exchange resins (see NEI, July 2000, p14).
Research for a repository for LILW on permafrost is underway and receiving funds from the European Commission’s environment directorate and the Norwegian and Swedish governments.
The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) will choose between two sites for investigations in 2001 for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel in a deep geological repository. The site characterisation, which includes drilling of the chosen sites, should start in 2002.
The government invited stakeholder groups to comment on its revised atomic law, which included questions on providing full public consultation prior to the initiation of a radioactive waste disposal programme. ZWILAG, the national intermediate storage facility at Wurenlingen, opened on 1 January 2000 and was officially inaugurated on 27 April. It has already received six shipments of spent fuel from the Leibstadt plant. ZWILAG has a licence for the operation of a high temperature plasma furnace. The furnace will convert many sources of low and intermediate level waste into a stable glass-like material for permanent disposal. The facility is also expecting HLW from the reprocessing of Swiss spent fuel at Cogema’s La Hague plant in France.
The board of ZWILAG approved the start of construction of an additional storage building for LLW and ILW at Würlingen. This facility will compensate nuclear operators for the delays in building a repository at Wellenburg and work will start before the end of 2000.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is financing the decommissioning of parts of the Chernobyl complex. A consortium comprising Belgatom, Ansaldo Nuclear and SGN has been contracted for the construction of a facility that will process and condition liquid operational waste from Chernobyl 4. Liquid and sludge wastes from the plant are currently stored on site in tanks with a total volume of 35000m2. When the plant is complete in 2002, it will process 2500m2 a year. Framatome is leading a consortium that has been contracted to provide a packaging facility for 25000 RBMK spent fuel elements as well as a facility to produce reinforced concrete for dry storage casks.
High-profile research continues into Yucca Mountain as a permanent HLW repository, although this has been stalled at the political level (see News Update, this issue). Utilities remain dissatisfied with the Senate’s dealing with the bill, which sustained a veto when 99 senators voted at 64-35. The bill requires a two-thirds majority for it to be passed.
A public hearing on the Yucca Mountain environmental impact assessment ended on 28 February. It is likely that the Secretary of Energy will decide whether or not to recommend the site in 2001. In the meantime, while HLW facilities are still scarce, government and industry are working to increase interim storage facilities for spent fuel. Private Fuel Storage (PFS), a consortium of eight US utilities, gained permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Council (NRC) to build a spent fuel storage facility in Utah as an interim measure until the fuel can be transferred to Yucca Mountain.
The administration dropped a project involving the construction of an incineration plant in Wyoming, following environmental opposition. BNFL had won the contract to compact and incinerate wastes from Idaho National Engineering and the Environmental Laboratory.
ATG won authorisation to build and operate the country’s first commercial mixed waste facility at its Richmond base in Washington. The permit allows ATG to treat commercial and government-generated LLW that also contain hazardous chemical contamination.