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E.U.-States plan a European Repository Development Organisation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A series of 14 European states has set up a working group to consider establishing a European Repository Development Organization (ERDO) to collaborate on nuclear waste disposal. The Working Group (the ERDO-WG) held its first meeting in Brussels on January 28, 2009, with the objective of completing its deliberations by mid-2010.

The ERDO proposal stems from the SAPIERR Project (Strategic Action Plan for Implementation of European Regional Repositories), funded by the European Commission (EC). On January 27, at the final conference of this project in Brussels the results on the viability of shared, regional European geological repositories were presented to 50 participants from 21 countries. The different aspects of the project included organizational and legal issues, economic impacts, safety and security considerations, and public and political attitudes to multinational repositories. Project Manager of the Netherlands waste agency COVRA Ewoud Verhoef, who coordinated SAPIERR-2 explains the meaning of ERDO-WG.

In the period 2003 to 2005 the SAPIERR I (Support Action on a Pilot Initiative for European Regional Repositories) was devoted to pilot studies on the feasibility of shared regional storage facilities and geological repositories, for use by European countries. This Pilot Project was initiated by the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage (Arius). This organization was founded in 2002 to promote the concept of regional and international facilities for storage and disposal of all types of long-lived nuclear wastes. One of the main objectives of SAPIERR I was to explore ways of providing shared storage and disposal facilities for smaller users. Meaning a scientific sequel to a 2002 EC Directive stating that geological disposal of radioactive wastes was preferred and that “A regional approach, involving two or more countries, could also offer advantages especially to countries that have no or limited nuclear programs, insofar as it would provide a safe and less costly solution for all parties.” The main conclusions of the nuclear waste agency's were: the potential benefits of multinational, regional repositories are recognized widely; and shared repositories would lead to substantial reductions in expenditure; problems faced by regional repository initiatives are common to those being tackled by national disposal programs, in particular concerning the task of siting the facility.

SAPIERR II was aimed to propose a practical implementation strategy and organizational structures that will enable a group of countries to create a formalized, structured organization - a European Development Organization (EDO). An organization that could be established from 2008 for working on shared EU radioactive waste storage and disposal activities in parallel with national waste agencies. The main tasks within the project were among others: preparation of a management study on the legal and business options for establishing an EDO; a study on the legal liability issues of international waste transfer within Europe; a study of the potential economic implications of European regional stores and repositories; first considerations of the safety and security impacts of implementing regional repositories; and a survey of public and political attitudes towards regional stores and repositories and of approaches to involving communities in decision making.

The 14 countries backing the ERDO proposal are: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The secretariat will be provided by Arius, based in Switzerland, and the administration by the Netherlands waste agency, COVRA.

Ewoud Verhoef, Project Manager of COVRA, states that ERDO-WG is the political sequel of SAPIERR Project: “Based on the findings of SAPIERR the Working Group has to facilitate a consensus on political level. First step is working on the terms of reference and the decision-making process, using the SAPIERR findings as a starting point, with the objective of completing its deliberations by mid-2010. At that stage, the participant countries will decide whether to go ahead and establish the ERDO and, if so, with what national membership.” Asking what would be the next step Mr. Verhoef responds: “The next step is how the waste repository (or repositories) will looks like and to define the criteria of the waste repository (or repositories), including social aspects. This process will take 10 to 25 years, after which a set of measures have to be presented that would be attractive for municipalities – with appropriate site locations - to accept. After all it can be a slow process, there has to be reached political consensus.” Verhoef added that he expects that the building of the storage facility and the agreements on it will be politically seen the most difficult issues. Further he stresses that the storage facility will be built in one of the participating states.

Sources: World Nuclear News, 11 February 2009 / Arius: / SAPIERR Project: / Telephone conversation with Verhoef, 23 & 24 February 2009