The European Commission has proposed that member states present national programmes, indicating when, where and how they will construct and manage final repositories for spent fuel and radioactive waste that aim to guarantee the highest safety standards.

The Commission proposes to set up a legally-binding and enforceable framework to ensure that all Member States will apply the common standards developed in the context of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for all stages of spent fuel and radioactive waste management up to final disposal. The requirements could become law as soon as 2015.

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said: “Safety concerns all citizens and all EU countries, whether they are in favour or against nuclear energy. We have to make sure that we have the highest safety standards in the world to protect our citizen, our water and the ground against nuclear contamination. Safety is indivisible. If an accident happens in one country, it can have devastating effects also in others.”

In particular the Directive establishes that:

-Member States have to draw up national programmes within four years of the adoption of the Directive. These should include: plans for the construction and the management of disposal facilities, laying down a concrete time table for the construction, with milestones and the description of all the activities that are needed to implement the disposal solutions, costs assessments and the financing schemes chosen.

-National programmes have to be notified. The Commission may ask Member States to modify their plans.

-Two or more Member States can agree to use a final repository in one of them. It is not allowed to export nuclear waste to countries outside the EU for final disposal.

-The public must be informed by Member States and should be able to participate in the decision making on nuclear waste management.

-Safety standards drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency become legally binding. This includes an independent authorities which grants licences for building repositories and checks the safety analysis for each individual repository.

Member States have to transpose the Directive into national law within two years from adoption by the Council. Adoption is expected for 2011, this means 2013. National programmes have to be presented within four years of adoption. This could mean end of 2015.

European trade association FORATOM praised the move.

“A legally binding text is important to ensure that all member states define and implement national programmes for the long-term, responsible management of radioactive waste. The nuclear industry backs measures that accelerate the implementation of decisions for the final disposal of radioactive waste.”

Its director general Santiago San Antonio said, “We are particularly pleased that the Directive acknowledges the fact that there is a world-wide scientific and technical consensus that deep geological disposal of high-level waste (and spent fuel if considered as waste), which has been proven by over 30 years of research, represents the safest and most sustainable option.”