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Argentina, Armenia, Belgium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#746, 747, 748
Waste special


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The April 1997 National Law of Nuclear Activity assigns responsibility to the National Atomic Energy Commission CNEA (Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica, founded in 1950) for radioactive waste management, and created a special fund for this purpose. Operating nuclear power plants pay into this. Awaiting final disposal interim storage of spent fuel takes place at cooling ponds on site, and some interim dry storage at Embalse.(*01) No reprocessing has taken place.

Final disposal
Final disposal of low-level waste takes place in engineering enhanced surface semi containment systems at the Ezeiza Radioactive Waste Management Area (AGE), operated by CNEA. For intermediate level wastes a monolithic near surface repository is foreseen, similar to those in operation in L’Aube, France and El Cabril, in Spain. (*02) Especially after a scandal in 2005 on high levels of water contamination with uranium in Ezeiza and Monte Grande, near the atomic center, doubts have risen about the conditions of and safety procedures at the AGE. The response from the CNEA and the government to the obvious contamination did not help to calm citizens’ worries, as it was marked by obscuring and silencing the real impact. A few years later the provincial government was forced to acknowledge the contamination values measured by independent laboratories, although official reports stated, that there was no contamination from nuclear waste but just high radioactive background level.(*03)

In 1994, during the nation's constitutional reform, a broad Argentinean environmental movement won a momentous victory to make Article 41, which bans the import of toxic and radioactive waste, part of the national constitution.(*04)

The Argentine Strategic Plan has provided three types of technological systems for final disposal:

  • Engineered Surface System, for LLW requiring isolation periods of up to 50 years.
  • Monolithic Near-Surface Repository, for ILW  requiring isolation periods of up to 300 years.
  • Deep Geological Repository, for HLW and SF requiring isolation periods in excess of 300 years.

With regard to spent fuel originating from research or radioisotope production reactors, the strategy considers two alternatives: Shipping them back to the country where they were originally enriched, if possible, or conditioning for final disposal.(*05)

The Strategic Plan, updated in March 2006, at present covers the period from 2006 through 2095.

The deadline to adopt a decision on the possible reprocessing or final disposal of spent fuel is subject to the completion of the studies for the siting of the Deep Geological Repository which have to be concluded at the latest by 2030. At such time the installation of the underground geological laboratory must have been started, which allows the design and construction of a deep geological repository, which must be operative by the year 2060. (*06)


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The Government of Republic of Armenia established state regulatory authority for nuclear and radiation safety (ANRA). ANRA’s task is the state regulation of nuclear energy, including the safe management of radioactive waste. ANRA regulates the nuclear and radiation safety of Armenian NPP, dry spent nuclear fuel storage facility, ionizing radiation sources, RADON radioactive wastes storage facility, and of other facilities where practices with nuclear materials are implemented.(*01)

Spent fuel is stored in spent fuel pools. After five years of storage the spent fuel is placed into dry spent fuel storage (DSFS) and are placed into horizontal concrete storage modules (HSM). After Unit-1 shutdown its spent fuel pool is used as a temporary storage facility for spent fuel. (*02) DSFS started operation on 1 August 2000. The license validity is 20 years. DSFS consists of 11 horizontally placed concrete modules for storage of 616 spent fuel assemblies. In 2005 the National Assembly based on proposal from the government made decision to extend the DSFS. It will enable storing 1890 fuel assemblies at least 50 years.(*03)


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In Belgium, after many years of discussion, a storage location has been selected for low-level and medium-level radioactive waste. It will take until 2070/80 before disposal of high-level radioactive waste will begin in clay layers.

Storage in sea
In Belgium, NIRAS (National Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials) has been responsible for the storage of all nuclear waste. NIRAS, established in 1980, is supervised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. From 1960 to 1982 Belgium dumped low-level radioactive waste in the Atlantic Ocean(*01) –described by NIRAS as "sea disposal at great depths".[*02] Since then NIRAS is studying the disposal of all types of nuclear waste aboveground or underground.

Low- and medium-level radioactive waste
In April 1994, NIRAS published a report on the aboveground storage of low-level radioactive waste. In all 98 mentioned suitable locations (in 47 municipalities), the report led to motions in town councils, in which storage was rejected.(*03).The government ask NIRAS if it would be possible to store the waste on one of the 25 military bases no longer in use. In June 1997, NIRAS published a report which "ultimately had only been a preparatory exercise, based on bibliographic data,"(*04) but nevertheless gave rise to concern again. Only the town council of Beauraing, where the military base Baronville is situated, was in favour of storage, but on 28 June 1998, in a local referendum 94 percent voted against.(*05) This brought embarrassment to the government, and as it often goes in politics, the government came with a woolly policy to work towards "a final solution or a solution with definite, progressive, flexible and reversible destination."(*06) According to this decision the low- and medium-level radioactive waste can be stored either close to the surface as well as in deep geological clay formations.(*07) The government no longer points to any sites, but puts the emphasis on public support and it assumes public support can be found at existing nuclear zones. These are Doel and Tihange (nuclear power stations), Mol (Center for Nuclear Energy Research), Dessel (manufacture of fuel elements) and Fleurus (Institute for radio-elements). But towns may present themselves also voluntarily.(*08) NIRAS adopted the government's policies and stated in 1998: "To strive for a real partnership from the beginning, rather than merely an exchange of arguments, means a modernization for the nuclear waste sector."(*09)

In 1999, after much deliberation, NIRAS signed a partnership agreement with Dessel and Mol, and on June 23, 2006 the choice fell on Dessel. In 2004, the population of Dessel had already voted in favour of the so-called surface disposal, which is planned to start in 2016.(*10) The waste (appr. 70,000m3) will be stored in what ultimately will be a hill of 160 by 950 meters and 20 meters high. Barrels put in boxes filled-up with concrete (monoliths), will be placed in modules and covered with mutiple layers. Taking into account the additional buildings, the storage requires 74 acres (30 ha). After 50 years, the storage is completed, and then it can be decided whether the roof is replaced by a definitive cover. It should be possible to retrieve the monoliths in the first 200-300 years when there will be active monitoring of the waste.(*11)

High-level radioactive waste
Since the early 1970s, Belgium has plans to store high-level radioactive waste in clay layers. From 1974 to 1989 research and construction of an underground mine (at a depth of 230 meters) into the clay under Mol in the Kempen region took place. This is a particular type of clay, the so-called “Boomse klei” (Boom clay), which is also present in some parts of the Netherlands. According to NIRAS, Belgium opted for clay because there was data available. The choice fell on Mol ("Apart from its intrinsic qualities, the Boom clay has the advantage of being located under the nuclear site at Mol-Dessel.") because this town is hosting the national Center for Nuclear Energy Research with the (closed) Eurochemie reprocessing plant: "to have available a local solution for eventual disposal of reprocessing waste from the Eurochemic plant".(*12)

Between 1990 and 2000 methods to assess the safety and the properties of clay for the long term were studied. One of the important questions what would happen if nuclear waste is leaking from the barrels and ends up in the clay? The NIRAS 2002 SAFIR (Safety Assessment and Feasibility Interim Report) 2 report states that many questions about the safety of storing nuclear waste in clay remain unanswered: until 2017, therefore eleven issues have to be examined with priority.

Until 2017, NIRAS will show the feasibility of the studied solution and demonstrate how the nuclear waste has to be disposed of. Then construction of the storage mine may start. In the complicated words of NIRAS: "Without frustrating the basic choice of the Boom clay, at this moment there still remain important questions unanswered, therefore it is premature to make a definitive statement today on the technical feasibility of storage in this formation or on the operational and long-term safety of such disposal."(*13)

Keeping in mind there is still no decision on disposal of high-level radioactive waste in clay yet),  the NIRAS' Board of Directors adopted a 'Waste Plan' on 23 September 2011.(*14) "Now the legal procedure for the Waste Plan is completed and the dossier is ready to be delivered to the government which then will have all the ingredients to make a decision. With a basic decision of the government clarity will be obtained which direction further work has to be done on how long-term safety can be guaranteed. The basic decision will be the first step in a gradual, lengthy decision-making process in which the society will be involved. The process leading to the implementation of a long-term management option will take several decades. Currently, it is not about selection of a location. That choice, at which the local population will be 'closely involved', will be made at a later stage in the decision-making process.”(*15) If the government opts for storage in clay, it will take until 2070-2080 before the disposal of high-level radioactive waste can begin.(*16)


*01- World Nuclear Association: Nuclear Power in Argentina, November 2011
*02- Republica Argentina: Third National report Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, 2008, section B-7
*03- Michael Alvarez Kalverkamp: Argentina: Uncertainty about the nuclear future, Heinrich Boell Foundation, 18 April 2011
*04- Greenpeace: Argentina next nuclear dump for the world?, 8 November 2002
*05- IAEA: Country profile: Argentina
*06- Republica Argentina, Section B-1

*01- ANRA: ANRA Regulatory Activity, Installations subject to Regulation and Legal Bases, website, April 2012.
*02- ANRA: Convention on Nuclear Safety, Fifth national report of the Republic of Armenia, September 2010.
*03- ANRA: Dry Spent Fuel Storage Facility, website, April 2012

*01- IAEA: Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea, IAEA-Tecdoc-1105, August 1999
*02- NIRAS: Het beheer van het radioaktieve afval, vouwblad 7: De berging van het radioaktieve afval, (The management of radioactive waste. Folder 7; the disposal of radioactive waste), Brussels, no date.
*03- Erik van Hove: Accounting for Socio-economic Effects in Nuclear Waste Disposal Projects, in: Nuclear Energy Agency, "Informing the Public about Radioactive Waste Management", Proceedings of an NEA International Seminar, Rauma, Finland, 13-15 June 1995, Paris, 1996, p 161-171
*04- NIRAS: press release, Brussels, 16 March 1998, p 3
*05- TV België-1: journaal (national TV-channel news) 19.00 hr, 28 June 1998
*06- NIRAS: Informatiefiche, Brussels, 2 March 1998
*07- Nuclear Energy Agency: Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in OECD/NEA Member Countries, Belgium, Paris, 25 May 1998
*08- NIRAS: Informatiefiche, Brussels, 2 March 1998, p. 11
*09- NIRAS: Partnerschap staat centraal in nieuw werkprogramma van NIRAS, (Partnership is central issue in new working program of NIRAS), press release, Brussels, 16 March 1998, p. 3-4
*10- NIRAS: Het langetermijnbeheer van categorie-A afval  (2006) (The long-term management of Category-A waste)
*11- NIRAS: Final report De berging, op Belgisch grondgebied, van laag- en middelactief afval met korte levensduur, 2006 (The storage, on Belgian soil, of short lived low and intermediate level waste)
*12- NIRAS: SAFIR Syntheseverslag (SAFIR Synthesisreport), Brussels, June 1989, pp. 7 and 8
*13- NIRAS: Naar een duurzaam beheer van radioactief afval (Towards a durable management of nuclear waste), SAFIR 2 and it's context, report NIROND-2001-07N, 4 February 2002.
*14- NIRAS: Press release Afvalplan (Wasteplan) Brussels, 23 September 2011
*15- ONDRAF/NIRAS, Executive summary Afvalplan voor het langetermijnbeheer van geconditioneerd hoogradioactief en/of langlevend afval en overzicht van verwante vragen, September 2011. (Waste plan for long term management of conditioned high-level waste and/or long-living waste and overview of relevant questions) report NIROND 2011-04.
*16- Sigrid Eeckhout (NIRAS), email to Herman Damveld on 8 December 2009, 15.51 hr.