Belgium’s radioactive waste management agency Ondraf/Niras on 5 February resubmitted an amended safety case to the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (Fanc) as part of its application for authorisation for a surface storage facility at Dessel for low and medium-level activity short-lived waste.

The concept of this facility was developed in close collaboration with the local population, represented by the Stora (Dessel) and Mona (Mol) partnerships. Ondraf/Niras first requested a nuclear licence from Fanc for the site in 2013. The 20,000- page document lays out all the technical and scientific arguments demonstrating the safety of the facility in the short and long term.

Fanc declared the file incomplete in 2013 and raised some 300 questions. At the end of 2017, Ondraf/Niras responded to the last questions and, in 2018 integrated these responses into the file. Rudy Bosselaers, Programme Manager at Ondraf/Niras, said: "A lot of work and time was needed to answer all these questions. This is a very complex file. It is also the first time that such a facility will be built in Belgium."

Fanc will now prepare a report and submit it, along with the dossier, to the Scientific Council, an independent body composed of experts in the nuclear sector. If they deliver a favorable interim opinion, the process will continue. An official public inquiry will be conducted in the neighbouring municipalities. The residents of Dessel, Mol, Retie, Kasterlee and Geel will have the opportunity to review the safety case and provide comments. The province of Antwerp and the European Commission will also give their views. Fanc will then forward the comments to the Scientific Council, which will issue a reasoned provisional opinion and fix the provisional conditions of the authorisation.

Ondraf/Niras will have 30 days to respond, after which the Scientific Council will give a final opinion. The authorisation will then be issued by royal decree. Once the construction is complete, the last phase will begin, during which the Fanc will oversee the installations to ensure they meet the conditions of the authorisation. Ondraf/Niras is hoping to receive authorisation by mid-2020m, and the first waste would be stored at the facility in 2024. Ondraf/Niras also needs to apply for an environmental permit for the project from the Belgian government.

Photo: How the surface storage facility at Dessel will look (Photo: Ondrf/Niras)