Fourteen of the European Union’s (EU’s) 27 member states that operate nuclear power plants must draw up national programs for the management of spent nuclear fuel—including concrete timetables and cost assessments—and submit them to the European Commission by 2015, at the latest, under a new EU directive adopted last week.

The "Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management Directive" proposed by the commission last November was adopted by the council last week. When it becomes effective this September, it will force member nations to draw up a concrete timetable for the construction of spent fuel disposal facilities—as well as a description of the activities needed for the implementation of disposal solutions, cost assessments, and a description of financing plans.

The directive will also make safety standards drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency legally binding. It will also require member states to periodically invite international peers to review and exchange experience about spent fuel management—at least every 10 years.

Two or more member states will be permitted to share a disposal facility, but the directive strictly controls exports of nuclear waste to other countries. Initially, the EU had proposed a total ban on exports of radioactive wastes. The directive now allows exports only to countries that have a final repository in operation.

No countries have yet built deep geological repositories, though several are under development or construction. (See “The Big Picture: Underground Nuclear Waste Disposal” in the Global Monitor department of the August issue of POWER, live on August 1.) It takes a minimum of 40 years to develop and build one, the EU noted.

"This is a major achievement for nuclear safety in the EU," said Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger last week. "After years of inaction, the EU for the very first time commits itself to a final disposal of nuclear waste. With this directive, the EU becomes the most advanced region for the safe management of radioactive waste and spent fuel."

Sources: POWERnews, EU