Nuclear Waste Rules for Europe

Deep burial of nuclear waste is seen by the European Commission as being the best final dispoal strategy for Europe, and exports of nuclear waste for final disposal will be banned.

The Commission has proposed a new Council Directive, under the Euratom Treaty, which will require Member States to draw up national plans for final disposal of waste from from nuclear power plants as well as from medicine or research.

Out of twenty-seven Member States, fourteen operate nuclear power plants. There are nuclear reactors under construction and being decommissioned, as well as plans to build new reactors in a number of Member States.

EU Issue Tracker outlines the key elements of the new legal framework propossed by the Commission.

Elements of the Proposal

The proposed Directive lays down an EU-wide framework for a safe and adequate management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, protecting workers and the general public against any dangers originating from ionizing radiation.

The legal rules presented cover all stages of the management of civilian spent fuel and radioactive waste from generation up to disposal. However, specific types of waste e.g. waste from extractive industries which may be radioactive and authorised releases, fall outside the scope of the Directive.

In principle, radioactive waste has to be disposed of in the Member State in which it was generated. Nevertheless, Member States may conclude agreements to use final disposal facilities in one of them. The export of nuclear waste to countries outside the EU for final disposal is not permitted.

General Principles

In line with the Nuclear Safety Directive the proposed legal framework sets out general principles governing the safe and sustainable management of spent fuel and radioactive waste.

The application of the general principles includes requirements for: a long term national framework for spent fuel and radioactive waste management; a competent regulatory authority in the sector; prime responsibility for the safety of nuclear waste disposal rests with license holders; Member States to ensure the skills and training required and transparency in the decision-making process on nuclear waste management.

Specific Obligations

Given the specificity of radioactive waste management, the Directive also introduces provisions setting out specific obligations concerning the approach to safety.

These include requirements for: a safety case and a supporting safety assessment of facilities and activities relating to the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste; ensuring that sufficient financial resources are available for spent fuel and radioactive waste management when needed in accordance with the ‘polluter-pays-principle’ and making safety standards drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency legally binding.

Specific Requirements

Finally, a set of specific requirements for national framework programmes for nuclear waste disposal is also included in the proposed legal framework.

Accordingly, national programmes have to consist of: plans for the construction and the management of disposal facilities, laying down a concrete time table for the construction and the description of all the activities that are needed to implement the disposal solutions; costs assessments and the financing schemes chosen.

The national programmes have to be set up within 4 years of the adoption of the Directive. As the adoption is expected for 2011, this means end of 2015. Moreover, national plans have to be notified by the Member States to the Commission which may request for clarifications or ask them to revise their plans.

Reporting Requirements

The Member States have to report to the Commission on the implementation of the Directive, which serves as basis for the progress report that the Commission has to submit to the Council and the European Parliament on the application of the present Directive. In order to maintain high safety standards, Member States have to periodically assess their national framework, competent regulatory authority and national programme and its implementation.

Next Steps

The proposal will be examined over the coming months by the Council which can adopt the proposal by a qualified majority possibly still in 2010 or in early 2011. The European Parliament can only give its opinion on the proposal and cannot reject or propose amendments to the text.