Radwaste | World survey

Disposal plans (part 4: low- and intermediate-level waste)

3 July 2012

A review of radioactive waste management strategies, inventories and recent developments in countries with operating nuclear power plants. By Caroline Peachey

About 40 near surface L/ILW disposal facilities have been safely operating worldwide during the past 35 years, according to the IAEA, and an additional 30 facilities are expected to come into operation in the next 15 years.

Currently around a third of the countries with nuclear power plants do not have any operating disposal facilities for low- and intermediate-level waste. Among them are some major nuclear countries including Canada (25 reactors); Belgium (seven reactors) and Switzerland (five reactors). In these countries waste is currently stored at the nuclear power plant sites or in interim waste stores.

It looks as though most countries will build permanent disposal facilities in the near future. In a 2011 report, the European Commission concluded that almost all member states with nuclear power programmes would implement disposal solutions for very low-level waste and short-lived low- and intermediate level waste by 2020.

In Canada, nuclear utilities and AECL remain responsible for low- and intermediate-level wastes, which are currently stored above ground. As of December 2010, some 13,000 m3 of ILW and 78,000 m3 of LLW was in storage at the nuclear power plant sites, principally Ontario Power Generation’s Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF) at the Bruce nuclear site. OPG aims to build a 200,000m3 facility repository 680 meters below its WWMF for operation around 2019. In April 2011, OPG submitted a 12,500-page EIA on its deep geologic repository to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). A six-month public consultation was launched in February 2012 on the environmental impact statement and preliminary safety report (PSR). According to CNSC, a construction licence is expected in 2012. OPG is the owner and licensee of the repository; however, NWMO was contracted to manage its development from the beginning of 2009.

Belgium currently stores its operation nuclear power plant waste in temporary stores onsite or at Mol or Dessel (site of Belgoprocess). A near-surface repository for low- and intermediate-level waste is currently planned for Dessel. A construction licence for the facility is due to be submitted in 2012, with operation slated for 2016.

Switzerland envisages two repositories, one for L/ILW, and one for spent fuel, HLW and long-lived ILW coming into operation in 2030 and 2040, respectively. The first stage of the repository site selection process was completed in November 2011 with the identification of six suitable host regions. Over the next four years, those regions (Südranden, Zürich Nordost, North of Lägern, Jura Ost, Jura-Südfuss and Wellenberg) will be investigated in more detail with the aim of identifying potential host sites. The final stage will involve detailed investigation of the sites and safety analyses. Licensing may be subject to a national referendum.

The Netherlands is an interesting exception to the final repository rule as it has decided to store all of its radioactive waste (low to high-level) in a purpose built interim store (Habog) for at least 100 years. Ultimately the plan is for all radioactive waste to be disposed of in deep geological repositories. (Near surface disposal LLW/ILW is not an option in the Netherlands due to the high groundwater level.)

Spain is following a similar strategy and in mid-2006 the Spanish parliament approved decommissioning firm Enresa’s plans to develop a temporary central waste storage facility for storage of ILW, HLW and spent fuel. In December 2011 Spain’s Ministry for Industry announced that Villar de Canas, Cuenca, had been selected to host the facility, designed to hold 60 years of fuel. Pending construction, L/ILW continues to be sent to Enresa storage facility at El Cabril, Cordoba, which has operated since 1961.

In late 2011, Bulgaria awarded a multi-million dollar contract to an international consortium (Westinghouse Electric Spain; Gemany’s DBE Technology and Enresa) for the design of a national low- and intermediate-level waste repository on land adjacent to the Kozloduy nuclear power plant. The modular facility is scheduled to open in 2015 and will accept almost 350,000 tonnes of waste over the next 60 years. The repository project will cost EUR 120 million and is being funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Slovenia had been aiming to build a modular facility for storage of all the L/ILW arising in the country at the Vrbina site. The government had targeted operation for 2013, but activities have been slower than planned and this will now be delayed.

In Argentina, L/ILW such as spent resin beds are stored in 200L drums at the nuclear power plant sites Embalse (since 1994) and Atucha (since 1999). In 2006, the country revealed plans to build low- and very low-level waste repositories at the same site (still to be determined; site selection work is currently underway). The schedule is linked to decommissioning and with life extensions planned for the country’s reactors the strategic plan, including target dates for operation are being reviewed. In the past Argentina has disposed of some of its waste in the Ezeiza Radioactive Waste Management Area, which closed in 2000.

Brazil is in a similar situation, with waste in interim storage at the Angra site, pending final disposal. A project to build a national repository for Brazil’s L/ILW was launched in 2008; site selection is currently in progress. Licensing for the facility must be underway before the completion of Angra 3, which is slated for 2015.

Countries with L/ILW repositories include: Czech Republic, Finland, France, China, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Korea, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, USA and the UK.

With repositories

CEZ, the Czech nuclear operator, has a shallow land repository within the Dukovany NPP complex, which is designed to accommodate all future L/ILW from the country’s two nuclear power plants. A repository is also located in the abandoned Richard mine near Litomerice.

Finland has two operating L/ILW facilities at existing nuclear power plant sites, which came into operation in the 1990s. Almost 10,000 m3 of operational L/ILW had been produced from the four reactors, with around 70% disposed. Decommissioning of those units is expected to generate 56,500 m3 of L/ILW, which will be disposed of in extensions to the current repositories.

The generation of VLLW in France is expected to average 25,000 t/year for the next decade. France has three sites for disposal of low-level waste: Centre de la Manche, which operated from 1969 to 1994, accepting 527,000 m3 of waste; Centre de l’Aube operating from 1992 onwards, and most recently Morvilliers, operable from 2003. The two operating sites were each at about 25% capacity in 2010.

Germany has a raft of interim storage facilities, with nine centralized facilities in addition to those at nuclear power plant sites. Germany also three repositories for the disposal of radioactive waste: Morsleben, Konrad and Asse II.

Some 125,000 drums containing low- and medium-level waste (mainly from nuclear facilities) were disposed of at Asse from 1967 until the end of 1978, and research was conducted there until 1992. Problems with the stability of the Asse II mine led to the backfilling or old chambers from 1995 to 2003. However, movement of the rock continues at the rate of approximately 13 cm per year, allowing the possibility for generation of clefts and the flow of water into the mine. In 2010, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), which operates the mine, announced that the best option for the long-term safety of the Asse repository would be retrieval of the waste rather than further backfilling measures. Fact-finding missions to investigate the stability and conditions of the chambers, the levels of radioactivity, and the state of the waste packages are now underway. In February 2012, the district of Wolfenbüttel gave permission for an exploratory drilling programme for shaft five in a 5000 square meter-area. The planning work for the new open shaft is expected to take several years.

The Morsleben repository (also a former salt mine) operated from 1971 until 1998 taking around 36,800 m3 of L/ILW from nuclear power plants as well as research and industry. The current plans to decommission the repository involve backfilling four million cubic meters of cavities as well as two shafts. These measures are expected to take 15 years to implement. BfS hopes to gain approval of the decommissioning plan by 2014.

The Konrad site (a former iron ore mine) has been under development as a repository since 1975, and was licensed in 2002 for L/ILW disposal. A construction licence was issued in January 2008; the structural refurbishment of the Konrad mines is essentially complete and excavation of the first emplacement chamber has begun. Construction of the repository is not expected to be complete before 2019. The total cost of getting the Konrad site up and running are estimated at around EUR 2.6 billion (around 40% was spent during the 1997-2008 planning and exploration phase and the remainder is the estimated cost of construction). The Konrad site will accept up to 303,000 m3 of waste packages with negligible heat generation, or 90% of the total volume of German waste to be disposed of within a repository.

In Hungary, the solid and liquid radioactive wastes that are generated during the operation of Paks NPP are temporarily stored in the plant. It is estimated that decommissioning of Paks will produce approximately 40,000 m3 of L/ILW, plus around 16,000 m3 during its 50-year operational lifetime. A national radioactive waste repository has been constructed at Bátaapáti for the disposal of LLW and ILW of Paks NPP. The commissioning of the surface facilities was licensed in October 2008, enabling the temporary storage of part of the solid waste from Paks to take place later that year.

Each Indian nuclear power plant site has facilities for storage and disposal of radioactive waste. Solid waste is disposed of in brick-lined earth trenches or steel-lined till holes, depending on the radioactivity. Seven near-surface facilities are in operation in India.

In Japan, the near-surface disposal of solidified liquid waste and compacted and solidified non-combustible wastes began in 1992 at the JNFL disposal center in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture. Some 230,000 drums of waste had been buried of by the end of March 2011, bringing the facility to almost 60% capacity.

Slovakia has operated a 22,000 m3 near-surface repository for L/ILW in Mochovce since 2001. Containers are stored in a system of disposal boxes arranged into double rows (40 boxes in each). Capacity is expected to be sufficient for operational, decommissioning and institutional waste for 10-15 years.

Sweden’s nuclear facilities generate around 1000-1500 m3 of L/ILW each year. Most of this waste is conditioned at the reactor sites. VLLW shallow land burial facilities are in operation at the Ringhals, Forsmark and Oskarshamn plants. The L/ILW facility (SFR) has been operated close to Forsmark since 1988. The facility is situated in crystalline bedrock, approximately 50 m below the seabed. The total capacity of the SFR, which consists of four rock caverns and a silo, is 63,000 m3 (33,871 m3 of waste was in storage as of December 2010). An extension is planned to dispose of future decommissioning waste and waste from other operators, with a licence application due for submission in 2013, and operation planned for 2020.

The Russian nuclear power plant operator had accumulated, by December 2010, 69 million m3 of solid radioactive waste and 426 million m3 of liquid radioactive waste, mainly low level. In the past, Russia has used deep-well injection for disposal of some low- and intermediate-level wastes from some reprocessing facilities, notably Seversk, Zelenogorsk and Dimitrovgrad. However, its 2011 radioactive waste management law prohibits disposal of liquid wastes into any new geological formations. Russia also has some 540 m3 of legacy radioactive waste that is concentrated in over 1000 storage facilities.

Russia is currently in the process of setting up a national radioactive waste management system by 2015. This involves setting up a national radioactive waste management operator, a funding tariff framework and selection of a site for waste disposal.

In South Korea, L/ILW is stored at each reactor site. At the end of 2009 stores were at around 87% capacity. A shallow geological disposal repository for L/ILW at Gyeongju was announced in 2006 and began accepting waste in late 2010. The waste drums will be held in outdoor storage until the underground repository itself is commissioned this year.

In South Africa, Necsa has been operating the national repository for L/ILW wastes at Vaalputs in the Northern Cape province. It has been accepting waste from the Koeberg plant since 1986, financed by Eskom.

Waste arising from the operation of Ukrainian nuclear power plants is currently stored in temporary stores on-site. An expansion of the facilities at the Zaporizhzhya site is planned (capacity is at around 70%). Ukraine’s strategy for radwaste management approved in 2009 calls for radwaste generated at NPPs to be treated to the state accepted for disposal on NPP sites and for low- and intermediate level waste to be placed into centralized disposal facilities. This includes waste resulting from the Chernobyl accident, of which around 2.8 million m3 is currently in radwaste disposal sites (RWDS) and radwaste interim confinement sites (RICS) that were constructed under post-accident conditions.

The USA currently has three active, licensed commercial LLW disposal sites (Barnwell in South Carolina; DOE’s Hanford site in Washington state and EnergySolutions’ facility in Clive, Utah). A fourth licensed site—Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Facility in Andrews, Texas—started accepting waste for disposal in April 2012 and is currently licensed until 2024. In November 2011, a cooperative of 15 utilities from across the USA entered into an agreement to dispose of their LLW in the Texas repository. Commercial US LLW sites now closed are: Beatty, Nevada (closed 1993); Maxey Flats, Kentucky (closed 1977); Sheffield, Illinois (closed 1978), and West Valley, New York (closed 1975).

In the UK, solid low-level wastes are disposed of in the 120 ha Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR) at Drigg in Cumbria, near Sellafield, which has operated since 1959. LLW Repository Ltd has recently completed construction and opened Vault 9 at the LLWR, which can hold around 5000 waste containers and is expected to provide capacity for the UK over 10 years. Intermediate-level waste is stored at Sellafield and other source sites, pending disposal.

Author Info:

This article was first published in the June 2012 issue of Nuclear Engineering International

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Disposal of short-lived waste in France
Disposal plans (part 1: spent fuel)
Disposal plans (part 2: reprocessing)
Disposal plans (part 3: geological disposal)

More information

This report was compiled from dozens of different sources, including national radioactive waste management organizations, power plant operators and industry reports. For more information see:
Radioactive waste management programmes in OECD/NEA member countries:
Reports from The IAEA Joint Convention Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management (2011): 
The IAEA Nuclear Waste Management Database: http://newmdb.iaea.org/
Report from the International Panel on Fissile Materials: ‘Managing Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors: Experience and Lessons from Around the World’ (2011)
Other sources include: Blue Ribbon Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USA); the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (UK), Posiva (Finland), Nagra (Switzerland), Andra (France), SKB (Sweden), NWMO and OPG (Canada), Atomic Energy Commission (Taiwan); Enresa (Spain); Nesca (South Africa); Rosatom (Russia); Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (Pakistan); Nuclear Energy & Radioactive Waste Management Agency (Romania), the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Germany); JNFL (Japan); State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (Ukraine) and the World Nuclear Association.

Radwaste emplacement at level 4 of the Morsleben, Germany L/ILW repository, which is about 400m belo Radwaste emplacement at level 4 of the Morsleben, Germany L/ILW repository, which is about 400m belo

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