This project addresses one of the most significant environmental challenges facing EU member states: ensuring the safe disposal of radioactive waste from decommissioning nuclear sites. The key to dealing with such wastes is quantifying the radioactivity content, so that decommissioning can be planned and implemented to minimise the risk to members of the public and the environment.

The project aims to provide nuclear site operators with measurement techniques that can be used to measure radioactivity for planning decommissioning, for segregating and checking waste materials during demolition, and for monitoring the condition of waste packages in radioactive waste repositories.

The need

The first-generation nuclear power plants and reprocessing facilities are coming to the end of their working lives. Ninety-one power plants are being decommissioned in the EU; most of the remaining 129 reactors plus fuel cycle facilities will also be in decommissioning by 2030.

The aim of the decommissioning process is to clear the site, while minimising the risk to the public and the environment from the hazardous waste arising. The cost of decommissioning and waste management in the EU is estimated to be in excess of 150 billion Euro.

The key to safe and cost-effective disposal of the waste is accurate characterisation – determining the physical, chemical, and radiological characteristics of the material. This enables nuclear site operators to plan the demolition process, assign the waste to the most cost effective disposal route and then to monitor that the waste is being stored safely. The metrological challenge is that nuclear sites have been operating for many decades, so the disposition and quantities of hazardous materials are not well known. There has been significant progress towards developing the new techniques needed in MetroRWM and MetroDECOM; this project focusses on bringing the techniques into use on nuclear sites and developing further innovative solutions based on lessons learned.

Regulatory bodies and international organisations have therefore carried out detailed studies of technical needs in the field. The common themes that have been raised are: (1) improvements in capability, (2) harmonisation and quality assurance, and (3) sharing knowledge. The improvements in capability that are required include rapid, on site measurements, improving the accuracy and traceability of measurements of waste packages.

These needs are reflected in EU Council Directive 2011/70/EURATOM which aims to encourage technical co-operation to improve safe management of radioactive waste and highlights the importance of building public trust and confidence.