Geological disposal is accepted internationally as the best management option for Higher Activity Radioactive Waste (HAW).
However, the approach taken and the progress made in delivering a GDF varies from country to country. Here the situation in different nations is explained.
The HADES Underground Research Laboratory was constructed to research the possibility of deep geological disposal in clay. It is managed by Euridice, and is an economic partnership between the Belgian Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials (ONDRAF/NIRAS) and the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK CEN). HADES is purely a research facility and will never be used for disposal.
Canada is currently seeking a site for a deep geological repository as a long-term management solution its spent nuclear fuel.
Nuclear Waste Management Organisation (NWMO) is a not-for-profit organisation established by the nuclear energy generators in Canada under the Nuclear Waste Fuel Act. NWMO is committed to an open, transparent, inclusive staged process to seek a host community.
The site selection process began in May 2010, and there was an initial expression of interest from 22 communities. Following an increasingly intensive process of study and engagement with communities, the number of study areas has reduced to 6, and a preferred site is expected to be identified in about 2023. Construction of the facility is expected to take about 10 years.
Site selection and evaluation began in China in 1986. It focuses on three locations in the Beishan area of Gansu province with a decision expected on the preferred site soon. All three sites are in hard rock (granite). The next stage will be to build an underground research laboratory which will operate for about 20 years, and then the final repository will be built in 2040 with acceptance of waste expected from 2050.
SÚRAO is the government administrative body responsible for radioactive waste management in the Czech Republic. It is coordinating the work regarding the development and construction of a deep geological repository for high level waste and spent nuclear fuel, which is expected to open in 2065.
The search for a suitable site for a GDF began in the 1980s shortly after the first nuclear power plant began operation. The 1990s saw an overall evaluation of the country’s geology, which was followed by surface exploration works. Subsequent exploration will include the drilling of boreholes to a depth of 500-10,000 metres. The results of the geological surveys, combined with other evaluation criteria such as the socio-economic aspects will be used to select two locations, which will be put forward by SÚRAO to government for approval in 2025. Final decision on the location will be made by the government.
Established under law, Andra is the National Radioactive Waste Management Agency in France, charged with the management of all radioactive waste. Andra is developing a 500 metre deep disposal concept for Higher Level Waste, the outcome of which will be the commissioning of a repository in Meuse/Haute-Marne by 2025, subject to government approval, and following public debate.
Posiva is responsible for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel of the nuclear power generators in Finland, who are also the owners of the organisation.
Construction of a geological disposal facility at Olkiluoto is nearing completion and it is expected that the first waste will be emplaced in 2024. The facility is at a depth of 400-450 metres will take spent nuclear fuel for disposal in copper canisters.
The site was selected following preliminary screening of the entire country, which was in turn followed by preliminary site investigations. Detailed site investigations and an environmental impact assessment procedure was carried out for four shortlisted sites. All of the sites would have been suitable, but it was considered that local communities were most willing at two of the four, and of those two, Olkiluoto had the largest available area, and a large portion of the spent fuel was already stored there. Government took the final decision in 2001 following agreement from the municipality (which had the right of veto), and the regulator.
The Repository Site Selection Act sets out the exclusion criteria, consideration criteria, minimum requirements and other bases for decision making. The selection of a site should be carried out by 2031 following a regulatory site selection procedure with comprehensive public engagement. To date, Gorleben, a salt dome in Lower Saxony is the only site which has been considered, but investigations there were discontinued in 2012. However, the site will be included in considerations for a final decision.
It is understood that India is undertaking research into siting and design for a final disposal solution for HLW and long lived wastes, but no more information is currently available.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organisation of Japan (NUMO) was established in 2000 with the remit to implement geological disposal of Higher Activity Wastes. The Japanese government has carried out a nationwide scientific screening process in order to identify which municipalities would be suitable to host the facility. It will then be an open voluntary process for municipalities to express and interest. A literature survey looking at geological records will take place of those municipalities which express an interest. This will be followed by preliminary site investigations of the geology, which will lead to more detailed investigations of suitable sites including the construction of underground research facilities. NUMO notes that work will only proceed based on respecting local opinions, obtaining stakeholder agreement, and securing government approval.
High level Wastes are currently dry stored in the HABOG interim storage facility, pending a long-term disposal solution. The facility is capable of storing the waste for up to 100 years. Dutch policy for the management of radioactive waste was set out in 1984. It established the choice of geological disposal, and research carried out which concluded in 2001 confirmed the presence of suitable deep underground geology (salt and clay formations) in the Netherlands. The research also recommended that further research be carried out into the retrievability of emplaced wastes in a GDF.
Radioactive waste management in the Netherlands is the responsibility of COVRA.
A national deep geological repository in Nizhnekansky Granite Missif in Krasnoyarsk Terrority was proposed in 2008. Following public hearings, the site was confirmed and construction of the repository approved. NO RAO, the Russian body responsible for radioactive waste management aims to build an underground research laboratory in Nizhnekansky by 2024, and a final decision on the repository is expected by 2025.
In mid-2006, the Spanish government approved plans to develop a national temporary storage site (CTS) for High Level Wastes. It will be designed with a life expectancy of 100 years, though the General Radioactive Waste Plan sets out that it will only be operational for 60 years. Once that is complete, the waste will be removed for subsequent management and the facility dismantled. Following a volunteerism process, the municipality of Villar de Canas in Cuenca has been designated as the site for the construction of the CTS and Associated Technology Centre. Research into geological disposal is on-going.
Enresa, a public, non-profit organisation is responsible for radioactive waste management in Spain.
The search for a site for a geological repository began in 1992. The process was voluntary, with enquiries about participation sent to all municipalities. The first two municipalities who applied where eventually ruled out because the local communities voted against continuation.
Pilot studies were made in a further four areas, and at the same time the Geological Survey of Sweden carried out a national survey which showed that there were potentially suitable sites in most of the country’s municipalities. The site investigations were then narrowed down to two areas: Östhammar and Oskarshamn. These lasted for five years and involved geological, hydrological, ecological and social impact studies. There was strong support from the communities in both municipalities. The final selection fell to Forsmark in the municipality of Östhammar. Preparations are underway at the site for the construction, pending the granting of a permit by the Swedish Government.
SKB is the organization tasked with developing the GDF.
Under the Swiss Federal Nuclear Energy Act, radioactive waste must be disposed of in a deep geological repository. The site selection process is carried out by NAGRA a national co-operative involving nuclear station operators and federal government. Engagement is being undertaken with local communities as well as the authorities of neighbouring countries, and with wider public and interested organisations.
Three sites have been shortlisted for further investigation: in Jura Ost, Zürich Nordost and Nördlich Lägern. This will include further geological investigation and in-depth socio-economic studies. The timetable indicates that a site, or sites, will be selected about 2022, with a definitive site selection and decision by the Federal Council on the general licence around 2029. The general licence then has to be approved by Parliament and may be subject to a national referendum. This could occur around 2031, with operation of the high level waste repository beginning in about 2060.
United States of America
Since 1977, policy in the US has been to forbid the reprocessing of used fuel and to treat it all as High Level Waste. The government is responsible for final disposal of the waste in a geological repository. A plan for developing a repository at Yucca Mountain was vetoed by the Obama administration. It is unclear what position the Biden administration will take on this issue.
Delays by the federal government in building a repository have meant that utilities could not be relieved of their spent fuel as required by legislation. This has resulted in the awarding of damages which goes toward meeting some of the costs of additional dry cask storage at reactor sites.
A repository for military wastes is located in Carlsbad, New Mexico (the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)) and began disposal operations in 1999. It is location is an underground salt formation.