Having sustainable solutions for radioactive waste management and decommissioning (RWMD) is an important consideration for countries expanding their nuclear energy programmes.
With China projected to increase its nuclear energy production to 131 GWe by 2030 and to 335 GWe by 2050[i], the government is exploring various waste management solutions, which must take into account a number of environmental, economic and societal considerations.
As part of its work to help countries manage all the stages of the nuclear life cycle, including RWMD, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) partnered with the China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA) to hold the NEA-China Forum on Nuclear Decommissioning and Radioactive Waste Management on 24 to 29 July in Beijing, China. China is a strategic partner to the NEA.
The conference consisted of two days of technical presentations followed by four days of site visits and was supported by the China National Nuclear Corporate Environmental Protection Corporation (CNNC CEPC). It attracted presenters and experts from NEA member countries including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway and the United Kingdom and more than 150 Chinese experts, academics and industry professionals from government departments, nuclear corporations, research institutes and universities.
The Forum was opened by CAEA Secretary General Deng Ge, with welcoming remarks from CAEA Vice Chairman Liu Jing, CNNC President Gu Jun, and NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV.
NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV.
“The NEA supports its member countries by providing research and analysis on all aspects of the nuclear energy life cycle, including on radioactive waste management and decommissioning,” said NEA Director-General Magwood during his opening remarks.
“China now possesses comprehensive radioactive waste management capabilities and cutting-edge reactor decommissioning technologies and our co-operative relationship with China enables the NEA to facilitate important exchanges which will help China and our member countries to have access to the latest technologies and approaches to address waste and decommissioning challenges.”
President Gu highlighted how solutions for waste management and the decommissioning of nuclear facilities are essential for the development of the nuclear sector both in China and internationally.
Mr. Gu said that the CNNC will continue to work with the NEA to promote nuclear science and technology innovation, deepen research projects and jointly explore the application of digital intelligence and other technologies in the field of radioactive waste management.
Addressing the Forum participants, Vice Chairman Liu highlighted how the CAEA is making significant headway in waste management and decommissioning in various aspects such as policy planning, regulatory supervision, technology innovation, human resources, finance and public communication. Vice Chairman Liu said progress has also been made in decommissioning old nuclear facilities, operating waste disposal sites and initiating a high-level waste underground research laboratory (URL).
The first two days of the Forum consisted of presentations, covering five key areas:
- Trends in decommissioning and radioactive waste management in China and NEA countries, including statistics, activities and scientific and technological developments;
- National regulatory requirements for nuclear decommissioning and long-term radioactive waste and spent fuel management;
- Experience and practices of radioactive waste management and views of the field’s future;
- Technologies and experience in nuclear decommissioning;
- International experience in public communication and financing on nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management.
The NEA Head of Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning, Rebecca Tadesse, presented an overview of the NEA activities in RWMD. Ms Tadesse discussed relevant work from NEA Committees, Working Parties and Expert Groups, including the Integration Group for the Safety Case (IGSC), the Committee on Decommissioning of Nuclear Installations and Legacy Management (CDLM), the Regulators' Forum (RF) and the Cooperative Program for the Exchange of Scientific and Technical Information on Nuclear Installation Decommissioning Projects (CPD).
CNNC President Gu Jun addressing the NEA-China Forum.
Ms Tadesse also underlined the importance of such international conferences in creating opportunities for decision-makers to meet with RWMD experts and stakeholders to discuss developments and challenges in the sector. She noted the success of the NEA International Conference on Geological Repositories (ICGR), which will next be held in Korea in 2024.
The Forum marked an important step in the NEA and China’s international co-operation, which has seen valuable exchanges and information sharing since the NEA and CAEA first signed a 2013 Joint Declaration on Co-operation in the Field of Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. The visit marked the continuation of the NEA’s work with China on technical and safety developments of nuclear energy that will benefit China and NEA member countries.
NEA Head of Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning, Rebecca Tadesse.
Participants also had the opportunity to visit several research reactors, safety laboratories and the Beishan Underground Research Laboratory. The Beishan Laboratory, located in the Gobi Desert near Jiuquan City in the Gansu province, will be used to test if the area is suitable for the long-term storage of high-level radioactive waste.
Director-General Magwood and the NEA delegation were invited to visit a number of local organisations, including the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology (BRIUG). The delegation was welcomed by BRIUG President Chen Liang and had the opportunity to learn about the Institute’s scientific research and technological capabilities. Both organisations agreed to enhance exchanges and co-operation in the fields of high-level radioactive waste disposal and uranium exploration, crucial to the nuclear life cycle.
The NEA delegation also visited the premises of the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE), the US-China Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security, and the NNSA Nuclear Radiation and Safety Center (NSC), a branch of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Additionally, the NEA delegation attended Peking University to view the various accelerator laboratories.
NEA Director-General Magwood touring the reactor research laboratories at Peking University.
At the end of the forum, the NEA and China had identified potential collaboration for joint projects in deep geological repositories, including safety case development, and graphite management. Additionally, opportunities for Chinese regulators and Technical and Scientific Support Organisations (TSOs) to participate in, and contribute to, Nuclear Energy Agency workshops and activities were identitied.
While in China, the NEA delegation held a number of bi-lateral meetings with government energy administrators and nuclear organisations, including from the CAEA, China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA), National Energy Administration, China Nuclear Power Engineering Co. LTD (CNPE), China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA).
The meetings offered an opportunity for the NEA to highlight its analyses of nuclear energy developments and co-operation on joint safety projects, as well as to discuss with key decision makers the status of China’s nuclear energy programme and its plans for the future.
NEA Director-General Magwood visiting the HPR1000 Exhibition at CNPE with General Manager Mr Jing Chunning.
“Of all the topics surrounding the nuclear energy life cycle, the question around radioactive waste is by far the number one aspect which concerns the general public,” said Director-General Magwood. “The nuclear science and technical community have accepted that the disposal of high-level waste in deep geological repositories is a safe and practical solution, and it’s our job to engage with communities to listen and exchange on this topic.”
For more on the Agency’s comprehensive work in this area, visit the NEA’s page on radioactive waste management and decommissioning