NEA releases report on deep geological repositories and nuclear liability

12 July 2023

According to a new report by OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) countries developing or intending to develop deep geological repositories (DGRs) need to consider nuclear liability. The 72-page report says disposal of long-lived radioactive waste in a DGR is a scientifically and technically credible solution that meets the need for long-term safety without reliance on active monitoring and management. However, it is important to assess the potential risks that may be associated with such a nuclear installation and to ensure that an appropriate regime is in place to adequately compensate third parties in case they suffer nuclear damage.

Countries developing or intending to develop DGRs must therefore “take into account nuclear third-party liability regime(s) as long as they apply to the disposal facilities. The operator of a GDR will have to maintain a compulsory financial security to cover its liability. In view of the unusually long-life cycles of such installations, the report looks at” issues that concern future generations against the background of the currently applicable legal frameworks for the operation of nuclear installations, and existing technical knowledge, conscious that both will evolve”. NEA says it is important to identify and address potential issues regarding nuclear liability with the nuclear liability regime(s) during the different phases of operation of the DGR.

NEA, through its Working Party on Deep Geological Repositories and Nuclear Liability (WPDGR), has been analysing the issue of applicability of nuclear liability conventions to DGRs in their pre- and post-closure phases since its establishment in 2016. In order to assess the applicability of the nuclear liability regime(s) to DGRs, three NEA Standing Technical Committees agreed to work together to enhance common understanding among legal and technical experts of nuclear liability regimes and the long-term hazards posed by radioactive waste disposal. These were the Radiological Protection and Public Health (CRPPH), the Nuclear Law Committee (NLC) and the Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC).

Their identified aims were:

  • to assess the technical and radiological aspects of DGRs that must be taken into account when addressing nuclear liability issues;
  • to examine and assess how nuclear liability regime(s) should be applied to DGRs throughout the pre- and post-closure phases, as well as related financial security and insurance, taking into account current management practices for radioactive waste; and
  • to assess subsequently whether the outcomes agreed for DGRs can also be applied to near-surface disposal facilities, noting that this specific question is left for future discussions.

This report is the result of the workshop, meetings and survey organised by the WPDGR over the 2016-2021 period and of the collaboration of the CRPPH, NLC and RWMC to present the most up-to-date information on nuclear liability as applicable to DGRs.

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