Belgium's Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) on 15 June issued an opinion on a proposal regarding the final disposal of high-level radioactive and/or long-lived waste, favouring disposal in a geological repository.

The draft proposal was developed by the National Institute for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials (Ondraf/Niras), and was submitted to the public and various government services, including the FANC, for consultation between 15 April and 13 June.

FANC said it is in favour of the proposed principle of geological disposal, but points out  that the safety of a concrete geological disposal project will have to be demonstrated at a later stage.

“The current proposal only discusses the principle of geological disposal. How, where and when the repository would be built is not yet an issue,” it said.

Belgium has not yet taken a position on the final disposal of highly radioactive and/or long-lived waste, which is why the European Commission is now also asking Belgium to outline the guidelines for the future.

FANC also considers it important that a national policy for the long-term management of such waste “is introduced as soon as possible, in order to avoid that responsibility is passed on to future generations and that the waste remains in temporary aboveground storage facilities”.

Ondraf/Niras “proposed to opt for a so-called geological storage”. This means that the radioactive waste would be stored in an underground disposal facility in a stable geological formation, to contain and isolate the waste in the long term. “FANC agrees that – with the scientific knowledge we have today – geological disposal is the safest long-term option.”

Noting that the world may look very different in the future, FANC, said geological storage offers a great advantage.

“Because the waste is very well contained and separated from humanity, the risks associated with new developments – such as wars, climate change and lack of financial resources – are limited as much as possible. Another advantage is that this type of disposal is 'passive', which means that no human intervention is required once the waste has been salvaged.”

FANC only rules on the nuclear safety and security aspects of the proposal. “There is also currently no question of a permit application for a concrete project on geological disposal,” it said. The proposal “will first have to be fully elaborated”. A site remains to be selected based on the most appropriate geological formation, location and depth of storage. “There is also no decision on this at the moment,”  FANC said.

FANC also has a number of substantive comments on the proposal. “For example, the possibility of a multinational disposal cannot be excluded. The possibility that a long-term management solution can be implemented on one or more sites must also be explicitly mentioned.”

Ondraf/Niras will now take into account the results of the public consultation and the advice of the Advisory Committee, the Federal Council for Sustainable Development, the regional governments, the FANC and the other consulted bodies and will then submit a policy proposal to the Council of Ministers.

Photo: Reference concept for a Belgian geological disposal (Credit: Ondraf/Niras)