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China, Czech Republic, Finland, France

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


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In China, there are two storage facilities for intermediate-level waste and a centralized facility for high-level waste. A geological disposal repository for high-level waste will start operation in 2050 at the earliest.

When China started to develop nuclear power, a 'closed fuel cycle' strategy was formulated and declared at an International Atomic Energy Agency conference in 1987: at-reactor storage; away-from-reactor storage; and reprocessing. China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC)  has drafted a state regulation on civil spent fuel treatment as the basis for a long-term government program. There is a levy of CNY 2.6 cents/kWh on used fuel, to pay for its management, reprocessing, and the eventual disposal of HLW.(*01)

China began construction of a multi-purpose reprocessing pilot plant at Lanzhou nuclear complex in July 1997. This project was approved in July 1986 and began receiving spent fuels from Daya Bay reactors in September 2004. The plant is fully operational.

Moreover, a commercial reprocessing plant (800 tHM/a) is planned to be in commission around 2020 at the Lanzhou Nuclear Complex, and site selection has already begun.(*02) However, as of December 2009, no final agreement had been reached between China and France on the transfer of the relevant technologies; the plant construction appears to remain on hold.(*03)

Interim storage and final disposal
In the 1980’s, radioactive waste disposal work was initiated in China. The former Ministry of Nuclear Industry (MNI) subsidiary Science and Technology Committee set up a panel of radioactive waste treatment and disposal. The siting of solid LILW disposal site began in the 1980’s and was implemented under the auspice of the former Ministry of Nuclear Industry. Industrial-scale disposal of low- and intermediate-level wastes is at two sites, near Yumen in northwest Gansu province, and at the Beilong repository in Guangdong province, near the Daya Bay nuclear plant. These are the first two of five planned regional low- and intermediate-level waste disposal facilities.(*04)

A centralized used fuel storage facility has been built at Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex, 25 km northeast of Lanzhou in central Gansu province. The initial stage of that project has a storage capacity of 550 tons and could be doubled.(*05) However, most used fuel is stored at reactor sites. New Chinese plant designs include on-site spent fuel storage with a capacity of 20 years worth of spent fuel.(*06)

Although most of China’s nuclear power plants are located in the more populated eastern regions, storage facilities are located in the far west. This policy is likely aimed at avoiding local opposition to locating these facilities near populated areas, signaling at least a marginal impact that public opinion might have on Chinese policies.

However, as one Chinese nuclear expert observed, unlike democratic systems where public opinion holds significant sway, the decision of the Chinese government is really “the only decisive factor for spent fuel management in China.”(*07) Since 2003, the spent fuel from two nuclear power plants in the southeastern province of Guangdong has been shipped to the Gansu facility – a distance of about 4000 kilometers. This is consistent with CNNC policy to ship spent fuel by rail to centralized storage facilities for interim storage and reprocessing.(*08)

In 1985, CNNC worked out an R&D program for the deep geological disposal of high/level waste. The preliminary repository concept is a shaft-tunnel model, located in saturated zones in granite.(*09)

Site selection and evaluation has been under way since then and is focused on three candidate locations in the Beishan area of Gansu province and will be completed by 2020. All are in granite. An underground research laboratory will then be built 2015-20 and operate for 20 years. The third step is to construct the final repository from 2040 and to carry out demonstration disposal. Acceptance of high-level wastes into a national repository is anticipated from 2050.(*10)

The regulatory authorities of high-level radioactive waste disposal projects are Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA). The China Atomic Energy Agency (CAEA) is in charge of the project control and financial management. CNNC deals with implementation, and four CNNC subsidiaries are key players: Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology (BRIUG) handles site investigation and evaluation, engineered barrier study and performance analyses, with the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) undertaking radionuclide migration studies. The China Institute for Radiation Protection (CIRP) is responsible for safety assessment, and the China Nuclear Power Engineering Company (CNPE) works on engineering design.(*11)

Czech Republic

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State-owned utility CEZ is fully responsible for storage and management of its spent fuel until it is handed over to the state organization SURAO (RAWRA in English: Radioactive Waste Repository Authority), founded on 1 June 1997.(*01) Eventual provision of a high-level waste repository is the responsibility of RAWRA. Most of low and intermediate level waste is stored on site or moved to the near-surface repository in operation at Dukovany.(*02)

Long-term interim storage
The concept preferred at the moment is the long-term interim storage of spent fuel in container interim storage facilities at the sites of the nuclear power plants at Temelin and Dukovany. Problem concerning this is that the spent fuel must be stored in an interim storage facility for a very long period of time, because the final disposal in a repository is only planned after 2065. The condition of the nuclear waste or the level of the hazard potential of the waste at that stage is unforeseeable.(*03)

In agreement with the Policy for radioactive waste and spent fuel management of 2002 the Czech Republic anticipates to develop a national deep geological repository in magmatic crystallytic rocks (granites or homogenous gneiss massifs) after 2050 and it should start operation in 2065.

The program of the repository development started back in 1992 (in the first year jointly with the Slovak Republic). Thirty potential locations were gradually identified, of which 12 potential locations were selected with varied geological conditions and diverse host rocks. The first geological survey was performed on six locations with granitic massifs in 2003 – 2005, without utilization of surface survey methods, and areas were selected for future prospecting stage of the geological survey. The works were suspended in 2005 due to public resistance.(*04) On 17 December 2009 “as a gesture of goodwill”, RAWRA announced that it will make it possible for communities to claim a financial compensation for geological research work of potentially CZK 100 million in total.(*05)

On November 25, 2010 a working group for dialogue was established to “strengthen the transparency of the process of selection a suitable site for a deep geological repository of spent nuclear fuel and high level waste, with respect to the public interests and to facilitate the active participation of the public and the communities in particular in the related decision-making process.”(*06)

Based on results of the completed stage of negotiations with the general public the Administration anticipates the start of surveying works start gradually after “negotiations with the general public are completed" and “only if the affected municipalities get involved on a voluntary basis in the selection process of the future deep geological repository location.”(*07) One possible site is at Skalka in southern Moravia. In the late 1990s, this site was considered for a centralized used fuel interim storage facility as an alternative to the Temelin storage facility and to the storage capacity expansion at Dukovany (beyond the 600 t facility).(*08)


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In 1994, the Nuclear Energy Act came into force, according to which all nuclear waste must be treated, stored and disposed of in Finland. Before that some of the spent fuel was sent to Russia.(*01) Posiva Oy is responsible for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel. It is established in 1995 by TVO and Fortum, two owners of nuclear power plants.(*02) Storage of spent fuel takes place on site until the final repository is finished. Finland hopes to begin with final disposal in granite around 2020-2025.

Preparations for the disposal of high level radioactive waste began in the late 1970s.(*03) In 1985, 102 potential sites were listed and in 1987 reduced to five for further research. This resulted in detailed site investigation at four sites from 1992 on, two of them at the Loviisa and Olkiluoto nuclear power plants. For all sites an environmental impact assessment was carried out and in May 1999, Posiva Oy proposed for a permit for the disposal at Olkiluoto in the municipality of Eurajoki. Local consent was highest in Olkiluoto and Loviisa, but at Olkiluoto a larger area was reserved for the repository and a larger part of the spent fuel was already stored there.

In January 2000 the town council of Eurajoki accepted the repository, followed by approval by the government and parliament in May 2001. In Finland the same disposal concept is applied as in Sweden.(*04) The construction application will be submitted in 2012, and operating license application in 2018. Posiva Oy expects that the first cannisters will go down in 2020 and final disposal will end in 2112. Around 2120, the repository is finally closed and sealed.(*05)

Construction of an underground rock characterization facility (called Onkalo) started in 2004. This will later become (part of) the final repository.(*06)

In May 2010 it was found that the time schedule might not be met. The Finnish TV showed that there is still much research to be done before the application for the permit (scheduled end of 2012) can take place. The Director of the Research Department of Posiva Oy, Juhani Vira, stated his willingness to request the permit at a later date.(*07)

However, in the planned facility will not have enough space for the spent fuel from the already approved nuclear reactor at Pyhäjoki. In October 2011, TVO and Fortum stated that the repository could not safely be expanded to accommodate used fuel from Fennovoima's planned plant.(*08) In March 2012, Despite pressure from the government to make a deal, Posiva Oy maintains that it could not be extended any further without compromising its long-term safety.(*09)

Because Finland has the same disposal concept as Sweden, there is the same criticism on the stability of the granite and on the use of copper. Dr. Johan Swahn, Director of the Swedish NGO office for nuclear waste review, wrote in December 2009: “There is no way that anyone can honestly claim that Posiva has a completed robust safety case. The Posiva safety case has not been developed independently, but relies entirely on the Swedish safety case work. The final test of the Swedish safety case will not be done until the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority gives an approval of the safety analysis…This will not be the case before 2013-2014.” “Already now there is concern from the authority about the barrier systems of copper and clay. It is not clear if all relevant copper corrosion processes are known and the risk for clay erosion is still not understood. So an approval is not at all certain. And nothing can today be claimed to be robust."(*10)

In 2010, the Swedish geologist Nils-Axel Mörner noted that there are many horizontal and vertical fractures around the planned repository. According to Mörner the safety is therefore not proven.(*11)

Geology Professor Matti Saarnisto, former Secretary-General of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, told in June 2010 Parliament that “an exaggeratedly positive image has been presented of the integrity of the structure of Olkiluoto’s bedrock”. He warns that a honeycomb of storage sites extending over an area of several square kilometres will weaken the bedrock, making it vulnerable to earthquakes, and that during an ice age permafrost could spread deep into the rock, potentially rupturing the canisters and releasing radioactivity into the groundwater.(*12)

The matter of fact is that to some extent all of the research institutes involved are suffering from a hostage syndrome. They see it as essential that spent fuel be disposed of at Olkiluoto, because it has been planned that way for decades. There is no scientific basis for it,” Saarnisto said in 2009.(*13)


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As in almost all countries, in France, the storage of radioactive waste is controversial. Pressure groups believe the storage of high-level radioactive waste in clay, planned at Bure from 2025 at the earliest, is in violation of the legislation of the government, because there is only one underground laboratory and a 1991 law requires at least two. All spent fuel is reprocessed in La Hague. France dumped low- and intermediate level waste in sea twice, from 1967-1969.(*01)

Low-level radioactive waste was stored at the above-ground site CSM (Centre de Stockage de la Manche) from 1969 till 1994. In 1996, the government-appointed commission 'Turpin' concluded that the site also contains long-living and higher radioactive waste and that the inventory was not exactly known. The commission also found that radioactivity from the site is leaking into the environment. It however concluded that dismantling and reconditioning the waste would cost too much and might generate a significant risk to the workers involved.(*02)

ANDRA is currently operating two disposal facilities: one for short-lived low-level and intermediate-level waste (CSFMA) and the other for very-low-level waste (CSTFA), both situated in the Aube district.(*03)

The 2006 Planning Act calls for the commissioning by 2013 of a storage facility for low-level long-lived wastes. The opening of this new sub-surface (15 m to 100 m depth) facility has been seriously delayed, to at least 2019, by massive protests in the areas considered as possible sites. ANDRA launched a public call to 3,115 communities in 2008 for volunteers to host the facility. Forty-one applied for consideration and, in June 2009, the government selected two small villages both in the Aube department that already houses the two operating disposal facilities for short-lived wastes. But both communities withdrew “under the pressure of the opponents.”(*04) Currently, the project is suspended and ANDRA and the government are looking for a new approach. Pending the creation of a suitable disposal facility, existing LLW-LL waste is stored at the production sites or in facilities which have traditionally used radioactive applications.

Pending the commissioning of a deep repository, intermediate-level, long-lived waste (ILW-LL) and high-level waste is stored at their production sites, mainly La Hague, Marcoule and Cadarache.

In 1979, the French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency ANDRA was established to manage and provide storage of nuclear waste. From 1987 to 1990 field study was conducted but protest against four test drilling forced the government to stop research and develop new policy.(*05) In 1991 parliament passed the Nuclear Waste Act, which regulated the new policy. The law is meant as a legal instrument for the creation of underground research laboratories, where studies will be conducted in potential host formations, at least at two locations and a best site will be chosen in 2006. It clearly prohibits the actual storage of nuclear waste in these laboratories. For this a new law had to be adopted after 2006.(*06)

Shortly thereafter ANDRA began with research in three new locations, which met fierce resistance. The French government stopped the investigation and wanted to consult the population. The government contracted for this reference Christian Bataille, then a member of parliament and undisguised supporter of nuclear power.(*07) In his search for a department that wanted to host an underground laboratory he spoke with people from different locations, elected officials and associations, but that did not lead to a broad support. Sometimes the disposal plans caused big splits in small local communities. In 1994, this disagreement was the reason why the mayor Michel Faudry from the potential host community Chatain in the department of Vienne committed suicide.(*08)

On January 6 1994, after the consultations Bataille chose three candidate departments for the underground high-level waste laboratories: Meuse, Gard, Haute-Marne and Vienne. Whether that laboratory is converted into a HLW-repository is a choice that will be made later. If a permit for the construction of an underground lab is given, the host community receives a compensation of €10 million per year during construction and operation of the laboratory.(*09)

Local groups were very dissatisfied with the state of affairs. In December 1997, the Conseil d'Etat rejected a complaint laid down in 1994 by residents of Meuse and Vienne on the Bataille mission. They stated that there had never been a real involvement of the affected population, as required by law. With this decision the Conseil d'Etat did not follow the advice of the so-called government commissioner, who agreed with the plaintiffs.(*10) Elected officials near Bure organized a nation-wide committee of elected officials opposed to underground labs.(*11) Associations of winegrowers in several area's (Cotes-du-Rhone and Roussillon) fear that their sales market will collapse if a nuclear waste repository is constructed in their neighborhood.(*12)

In 1997, in response to the protests, the French government decided to commission the National Assessment Commission (CNE) to study retrievability.(*13) CNE, a group that reviews progress on HLW management for government and parliament, published its report 'Thoughts on retrievability' in June 1998. CNE proposes retrievable storage (for TRU waste: non-heat-generating transuranic wastes) be licensed for relatively short periods – 50 years - to ensure that a decision must be taken on a regular base on whether or not the facility should be kept open. It also recommends long-term interim storage for spent fuel on the grounds that the fuel contains valuable energy products.(*14) In August 1999, the government authorized ANDRA to start work on an underground waste lab in a clay formation in Bure and to begin the process of finding a second site in granite. The Bure license would expire at 31 December 2006 by which time the parliament has to decide whether to transform the Bure site into a repository.(*15)

In December 1998 the departments Gard en Vienne were considered unsuitable because of geological reasons. The French government okay'd the waste lab at Bure in clay, but called for a new granite site.(*16)

Before the end of 2006 the government had to find a way out of a tough situation. The Nuclear Waste Act from 1991 required that at least two research laboratories should have been established, from which - following similar research - a choice had to be made. But there is only one underground laboratory: Bure.

Many environmental groups think that the government and ANDRA therefor do not comply with the law. In a December 2009 email Markus Pflüger of the anti-nuclear group Stop Bure in Trier (Germany) emphasized that again.(*17) But he also points at the fact that geological fault lines in the subsurface of Bure are denied by ANDRA: and, according to Pflüger, these fault lines are definitely a safety risk.

In June 2006 Planning Act was published.(*18) Besides 'optimizing repository concepts' and complete experimental program with technological demonstrations, it states that all operators of nuclear installations must estimate the future costs for the management of their spent fuel, decommissioning operations and the management of radioactive waste, and must allocate “the required assets to the coverage of those provisions.”

Commercial reprocessing, although originally introduced to obtain plutonium fuel for starting up fast-neutron reactors, is now clearly established as the national policy for spent-fuel management. A disposal facility for long-lived intermediate and high-level wastes is required to be in operation by 2025. No license shall be granted, however, “if the reversibility of such a facility is not guaranteed.” While the conditions of reversibility will be defined in a subsequent law, its minimum duration is one hundred years.

The license for the underground research laboratory in Bure (officially called LSMHM URL, often Bure is not even referred to) was initially until the end of 2006, but was extended on 23 December 2006 by the Government until the end of 2011. Therefore ANDRA has filed an application to renew it until 2030. The public inquiry was held from October 26 to November 30 and the licensing decree was granted on December 20, 2011.(*19) By making retrievability compulsory and to commission longer research, the French Government is circumventing the 1991 Nuclear Waste Act.

In early 2012 ANDRA signed a six-year contract with Gaiya as main contractor to project manage the conceptual and front-end phases of the Centre Industriel de Stockage Géologique project, dubbed “Cigeo”. The first conceptual study phase is to be conducted in 2012 and will lead on to a public consultation that will take place in 2013. The storage facility will be developed on a depth of 500 meters, and will exploit the properties of the Bure clay formation as a “geologic barrier to prevent any potential spread of radioactivity”. Although Cigeo will be designed to accommodate the wastes permanently, French law requires that storage can be reversible for at least 100 years.(*20)


*01- World Nuclear Association: China's Nuclear Fuel Cycle, March 2012
*02- Hui Zhang: On China’s Commercial Reprocessing Policy, paper presented at the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management 50th Annual Meeting, Tucson, Arizona, July 12-16, 2009
*03- Nucleonics Week: EDF, AREVA Finalize Joint Ventures with Chinese Nuclear Companies, 24 December 2009
*04- People's Republic of China: National Report for Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, September, 2008, p.13
*05- World Nuclear Association, March 2012
*06- Yun Zhou: China spent fuel management and reprocessing, Working paper, March 2011
*07- Qiang Wang, China Needing a Cautious Approach to Nuclear Power Strategy, Energy Policy, Vol. 37 (2009)
*08- Nuclear Fuel: CNNC Favors Remote Site for Future Reprocessing Plant, 7 April 2008
*09- Ju Wang: High-level radioactive waste disposal in China, update 2010, Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering. 2010, 2 (1): 1–11
*10- Zheng Hualing and Ye Guo’an: The Status and Prospect of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Back–End in China, paper presented at the Atalante 2000 Conference on Scientific Research on the Back-End of the Fuel Cycle for the 21st Century, October 2000. p.9
*11- People's Republic of China, September, 2008, p.34-38

Czech Republic
*01- RAWRA: Basic Information, Company website
*02- Wolfgang Neumann, Nuclear Waste Management in the EU, October 2010, p. 38-40
*03- Wolfgang Neumann, October 2010
*04- Czech Republic: National Report under the Joint Convention on Safety in Spent Fuel Management and Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, March 2011, p.90
*05 -RAWRA: Government moratorium ends; RAWRA intends to resume repository siting research, Press release 17 December 2009
*06- RAWRA: Working Group for Transparency of the Site Selection Process of a Deep Geological Repository was established in the Czech Republic, Press release 26 November 2010
*07- Czech Republic, March 2011, p.91
*08- World Nuclear Association: Nuclear Power in Czech Republic, March 2012

*01- Nuclear Monitor, Russian import of spent fuel imports stalled, 16 July 2004
*02- Posiva Oy: company website, visited 6 April 2012
*03- Posiva Oy Selecting the Site: the Final Disposal at Olkiluoto, company website, April 2012
*04- Mark Elam en Göran Sundqvist: The Swedish KBS project: a last word in nuclear fuel safety prepares to conquer the world?, In: Journal of Risk Research, Volume 12 Issue 7 & 8 2009, December 2009, p. 969–988
*05- Posiva Oy, General Time Schedule for Final Disposal, website, April 2012
*06- NEA/OECD, Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning in Finland, 2011
*07- YLE (Finnish TV), 19 April 2010 and 25 May 2010.
*08- YLE: Posiva: No room for Fennovoima waste in nuclear cave, 4 October 2011
*09- World Nuclear News: No room at the repository, 9 March 2012.
*10-  Swahn quoted in: House of Commons: Memorandum submitted by the Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates to UK Parliament, January 2010
*11- Mainpost: Endlager in Bergstollen statt unter der Erde (Repository in mountain tunnels, in stead of underground), 25 February 2011
*12- YLE: Posiva: No room for Fennovoima waste in nuclear cave, 4 October 2011
*13- IceNews: Finland set to become long-term nuclear waste dump, 29 August 2009

*01- IAEA: Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea, IAEA-Tecdoc-1105, August 1999
*02- Greenpeace: Nuclear Waste Management: The lesson from the CSM disposal site, 30 May 2006
*03- ANDRA: The French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency, May 2010, p.3
*04- International Panel on Fissile Materials: Managing spent fuel from nuclear reactors, 2011, p.38
*05- Yannick Barthe: Framing nuclear waste as a political issue in France, in: Journal of Risk Research, Volume 12 Issue 7 & 8 2009, p.941 – 954, December 2009.  *06- Republique Francaise: Law no.91-1318 of December 30, 1991 on Radioactive Waste Management, 30 December 1991, French version and English translation.
*07- Nuclear Fuel: French waste negotiator takes up Pilgrim's staff, 18 January 1993, p.14-15
*08- Nuclear Fuel, Citing pressure, Mayor of potential HLW laboratory site commits suicide, 31 January 1994, p 5 en 6.
*09- Nuclear Fuel: France okays work on HLW lab sites, ending four year stay, 17 January 1994, p 15-16
*10- Nuclear Fuel: French court rejects request aimed at halting search for waste labs, 29 December 1997, p.9-10
*11- Nuclear Fuel: Eastern Mayors fight to keep ANDRA from building waste labs, 22 September 1997, p.10
*12- Nucleonics Week: French localities' vote vary on nuclear waste lab siting, 24 April 1997, p. 13-14
*13- Nuclear Fuel: French government gives itself a year to decide on waste labs, 22 September 1997, p. 8-9
*14- Nuclear Fuel: French committee signals shift in approach to long-term storage, 13 July 1998, p. 11-12
*15- Nuclear Fuel: ANDRA gets license for waste lab, court challenge from Greens, 23 August 1999, p.14-15
*16- Nuclear Fuel: French ministers okay waste lab at Bure but call for new granite site, 14 December 1998, p.3-4
*17- Email Markus Pflüger to Herman Damveld, 5 December 2009.
*18- Republique Francaise: The 2006 Programme Act on the Sustainable Management of Radioactive Materials and Wastes, 28 June 2006
*19- ANDRA, ASN, CEA, IRSN: Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in OECD/NEA Countries: France, March 2012, p.16
*20- World Nuclear News, Next phase for French geological disposal, 5 January 2012