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“Nuclear energy is back” said President Macron this Saturday 2nd of December at Dubai’s COP28. France and twenty-one other countries have signed a pledge to triple the nuclear energy production capacity from 2020 by 2050. In the last few years, we have seen an important growth of people and politics considering nuclear energy as a reliable and efficient source of energy that is useful in the climate and energy crisis. 

Across the European Union we can still observe that nuclear power is controversial. Even if the European Union legislation regards nuclear as a green energy source in the Taxonomy Regulation and has put it on the Net-Zero Industry Act shortlist as a strategic energy, member states are still divided on the topic. 

As some countries consider nuclear as a danger that isn’t a green and sustainable solution, others embraced this energy to the point that they have created an informal alliance group called the Nuclear Alliance which aims to promote research and sharing of technical knowledge. Its last meeting included its 14 member states (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Sweden) and Italy as an observer and the United Kingdom as a guest. 

Without entering the debate of whether or not nuclear power is a low-price and low-carbon energy that can provide energy independence and efficiency, neither on the question of safety, this article will focus on the management of wastes in the context of legislations that aims to accelerate permitting procedure for these installations.


Indeed, some countries want to rapidly increase the number of their nuclear installations, therefore the number of waste will increase too. Without taking sending nuclear waste into space as an option, are states really ready to deal with these wastes in a long term way ?

Common approaches aren’t existing all over the world. No International, nor European laws, plans common methods of dealing with nuclear wastes.  International law does provide a classification of nuclear waste, and European legislation oblige the EU members to “provide for appropriate national arrangements for a high level of safety in spent fuel and radioactive waste management to protect workers and the general public against the dangers arising from ionizing radiation”, but states are free to choose their strategy of management. Therefore we can observe different approaches to the management of nuclear waste in the different countries.


  •  Dumping of nuclear waste in seas

Between 1946 and 1986, the seas have been a place of storage for nuclear waste. Without any international regulations applying there, over thirty operations of dumping at different sites in different oceans took place. In figures, the UK submerged more than 140,000 barrels, Belgium disposed of some 55,000, and France dumped more than 46,000.

With the increase in the awareness about the vulnerability of the environment in the second half of the 20th century, the international sphere laid its hands on the necessity to create some international principles[1] that aims to a global preservation of the environment. In this context, the “Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter”, the “London Convention[2]” in short, was adopted in 1972 (and entered into force in 1975). It is one of the first global treaties for the protection of the marine environment from human activities. Its purpose is to control marine pollution through the regulation of the waste that could be dumped into the sea. The complete prohibition of dumping all types of radioactive waste in the sea was voted in 1994.

Other conventions and agreements have been taken since that year, and more importantly international organizations that can take action in the field of waste management have been created. In 1957, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established. One of its main purposes being the management of radioactive waste. However, the topic of dump of nuclear waste in seas and its impact on marine ecosystems is still actual. In addition to the issue about the unsure location of the barrels of waste that have been dumped, illegal dumps have also been reported, and some dumps are even still authorized. In 2023, the IAEA approved Japan’s plans to release treated water stored at the Fukushima nuclear site considering that this release would “have a negligible radiological impact to people and the environment”[3].


  •  Reuse and recycle

Most nuclear materials are considered as only partially contaminated or only contaminated on the surface, which allows most of the materials to be cleaned in order to be reused or recycled. The clearance process aims to remain valuable for the industry of nuclear waste with low radioactive levels.

The improvement of technologies was an important improvement in the sector of recycling nuclear waste. It has enabled the sector to develop interesting separation technologies, which allowed safer processes and a capacity to recycle greater volumes of waste.

There is no common approach to clearance and reuse within the European Union. National regulations define on their own level the different conditions to clearance and release. An harmonization on the subject could be particularly relevant to make safer the knowledge that the users have in the origin of the material that they could use.


  •   Storage

The main issue in the management of radioactive waste remains the long-term management of higher radioactive level waste. These types of waste are more sensible to deal with. The solution adopted by a lot of countries is deep geological storage.

Researchers have selected different varieties of rocks that are more suitable to receive that type of waste, like granite rock and clay rock for example. The properties of these rocks are supposed to “delay and mitigate the migration of the radioactive substances found in the low, intermediate and high-level waste destined for deep underground disposal. The aim is to delay their interaction with the biosphere until they pose no more of a danger than natural radioactivity”[4]. Any type of ground is then not capable of receiving storage. It means that there is only a limited number of places where deep geological storage is possible without affecting nature or the biodiversity e.g. groundwater tables.

Before being stocked, nuclear wastes are conditioned in packages that act as engineered barriers designed to ensure more protection during handling operations, transport and long-term containment.

In every sector, the waste hierarchy for sustainable waste management is based on the triptych : reduce, reuse, and recycle. Even though the nuclear sector isn’t projected to be reduced soon, countries need to find enough waste solutions and storage to secure the right of future generation to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.







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