Advancing international co‑operation on radioactive waste disposal

Policymakers from fifteen countries met NEA in Paris.

Policymakers from fifteen countries met in Paris today to discuss the role of government in international co‑operation on advancing the development of national radioactive waste disposal programmes. The first Roundtable for International Co‑operation in Final Disposal of High‑level Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel was jointly organised by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) of Japan, and the United States Department of Energy (US DOE).

It is essential that countries continue to safely store their inventories of spent nuclear fuel and high‑level radioactive waste (HLW) and proceed to develop and implement final disposal solutions. After decades of research, the international scientific community is confident that geological disposal is a safe and effective long‑term solution.

The objective of this roundtable discussion was to strengthen international co‑operation among countries and to advance development of final disposal solutions for radioactive waste and spent fuel. The roundtable served to facilitate an exchange of experience and knowledge in developing and implementing final disposal policies for radioactive waste and spent fuel, as well as potential bi- or multi‑lateral collaborations among interested countries.

Opening remarks were delivered by Tomhiro Kaneko, Deputy Commissioner of ANRE/METI, Dr Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at US DOE, and William D. Magwood, IV, Director‑General of the Nuclear Energy Agency. Participants discussed opportunities for international co‑operation on sharing final disposal programme knowledge and experience, stakeholder engagement and public confidence, and research and development in the field.

During his opening remarks, Director‑General Magwood noted that international co‑operation can help achieve national solutions through the exchange of information and co‑ordination of policies, and by developing a consensus on international standards. "There have been intensive technical and scientific collaborations over the years," he said. "However, international dialogues at the strategic and policy levels can help further facilitate the exchange of existing approaches, both in the implementation of the HLW management policies, programmes and in regulatory oversight."

A summary report of the roundtable and its key outcomes is currently in preparation and will demonstrate best practices and strategic government policies for advancing national radioactive waste disposal solutions. The second roundtable discussion is planned for 2020.

Background notes for editors

The Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) is an intergovernmental agency which operates under the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD). It facilitates co‑operation among countries with advanced nuclear technology infrastructures to seek excellence in nuclear safety, technology, science, related environmental and economic matters and law. The mission of the NEA is to assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co‑operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for a safe, environmentally sound and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It strives to provide authoritative assessments and to forge common understandings on key issues as input to government decisions on nuclear technology policies. NEA membership includes 33 countries that co‑operate through joint research, consensus building among experts and development of best practices.

The NEA supports the domestic waste management activities of its members by facilitating substantive cooperation in technical, regulatory, and policy activities. The work of the NEA in this area has led to the development of key concepts and approaches that are now widely applied, such as the development of the "safety case" for geologic repositories.

Much of NEA's work in this area are led by the Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC). The RWMC is an international committee of senior representatives from regulatory authorities, radioactive waste management and decommissioning organisations, policy-making bodies, and research and development (R&D) institutions from NEA member countries. The RWMC facilitates and co‑ordinates collaboration within member countries on a range of topics, supporting the safe implementation of geological repositories. Its work contributes to advancing scientific knowledge and defining international best practices for safe geological repository implementation.

The NEA also facilitates international peer reviews and has assisted in more than 20 peer reviews since the 1980s. Senior representatives and subject matter experts are provided as expert reviewers through the peer review process. Recent examples include a peer review of the siting