Italian state-owned company, Sogin S.p.A., is responsible for decommissioning the nuclear installations in Italy and for management of the country’s radioactive waste. Sogin’s activities cover four nuclear plants (Caorso, Trino, Latina, Garigliano) and four fuel cycle facilities that operated until 1987, when the Italian government decided to phase out nuclear power following a national referendum.

New plans for the development of nuclear power in Italy were launched in 2008, but were rejected again in a referendum in June 2011. However this did not affect the project for a national radioactive waste repository, which started in 2010.

The previous attempt to localise a repository in Italy had failed due to lack of openness and stakeholder engagement. In November 2003, the Italian government passed a Decree siting a geologic repository for all waste categories at Scanzano Jonico, in Southern Italy. But due to strong opposition from the public and local communities those plans were cancelled.

In 2010 Sogin became responsible for siting, designing, building and operating a national repository for all radioactive waste generated in Italy, including from medicine, industry and research activities over the next 50 years. The overall volume of waste to be managed at the site is estimated at 90,000m3 (see table).

Sogin is already developing the preliminary design of the repository, although a site has not yet been selected. Later, the design can be tailored to meet the specific characteristics of the host site and the possible requirements of local communities.

The national repository will be a near-surface facility, with engineered barriers for the final disposal of short-lived low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste. The waste will be delivered to the repository in already conditioned waste packages, which will be encapsulated in reinforced concrete modules (3m x 2m x 1.7m) for disposal in reinforced concrete vaults (27m x 15.5m x 10m). The modules and vaults will be completed and qualified onsite.

After about 40 years of operation, the sealed vaults will be covered by a final multi-layer cap, which will provide an additional barrier for isolation of the radioactive waste and will integrate the national repository into the surrounding environment.

The repository site will also host a complex for the long-term interim storage of long-lived ILW and HLW. This waste is currently stored at the production sites, awaiting the availability of a geologic repository in Italy or in Europe following a shared approach.

The CSA complex will include four similar buildings, each with separate vaults for storing different types of ILW and HLW.

High-level waste, which includes vitrified and compacted residues from fuel reprocessing and non reprocessable irradiated fuel, will be stored in a dedicated vault in ‘dual purpose’ casks. A hot cell will host the equipment necessary for maintenance of the cask lids. The interim storage facility will operate for 50 years.

Furthermore, the national repository will be integrated into a Technology Park, open to international cooperation to promote research & development in the radioactive waste management and radiation protection.

Siting approach

The siting process for an Italian repository is based on a ‘mixed approach’, which takes into account technical and voluntary factors.

The technical phase of the process started in June 2014, with the publication of Technical Guide n.29 by the Italian Safety Authority (ISPRA), which contained the exclusion and investigation criteria (seismicity, hydrogeology, distance from coast, distance from populated areas, national parks, etc). Based on those criteria and those defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Sogin created and submitted to ISPRA in January 2015 a proposed National Map of Potentially Suitable Areas. This was obtained by progressively excluding regions that did not meet the criteria.
The map is now awaiting final authorisation by two Ministries (Environment and Economic Development), which will shortly give the green light for its publication together with the preliminary design of the repository and other ancillary documents, including the proposal of direct benefits for the communities and businesses located in the areas surrounding the repository site.

This publication will start the public consultation phase, which will be concluded with a national workshop, where all interested parties will have the chance to discuss and make comments on the proposals.

The regions and local institutions whose territories are included in the approved map will then be invited to formulate expressions of interest in hosting the national repository and technology park. If no expression of interest is given, Sogin will promote bilateral negotiations with the regions. If no agreement can be reached, a committee comprising representatives of the government and the regions will be created to reach an agreement. If an agreement can still not be reached, a Decree by the Italian President will promote a deal with one of the regions.

Throughout all these phases, Sogin will be seeking a communication and stakeholder engagement strategy, based upon principles of information, transparency and involvement. The final goal of this strategy is to share with local communities not only the final decision about the location of a national repository, but also the opportunity to partially modify the design of facility, the concept for the realisation of the technology park and the R&D activities that will be implemented there. This way of involving national and local stakeholders is inspired by the recommendation and by the processes adopted in many European countries.

The overall investment for siting, building and operating an Italian national repository, including the long-term interim storage facility, technology park and the external access infrastructures sums up to €1.5 billion. The financing will be assured by a levy on electric bills that is used to finance decommissioning and nuclear fuel management. Up to an additional €1 billion from public and private financing can be envisaged for additional sustainable development initiatives to be developed in the technology park.

About the author

Angelo Paratore is Deputy Director National Repository & Technology Park at Sogin.