Eastern Europe to host EU nuclear waste storage facility

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

High-level nuclear waste from across the European Union could be shipped to eastern Europe for burial in a central underground storage facility under plans being considered by EU member states.

The Times has learnt that the project, which comes amid a resurgence of interest in nuclear power, could be given the green light later this year by the European Commission. Ewoud Verhoef, deputy director of Covra, the agency responsible for the storage of the Netherlands´ nuclear waste, said: "The nuclear programme in Holland is small and the cost of building a geological repository is very high. We only have one nuclear reactor in the Netherlands so there would be big advantages to a shared solution."

Discussions are under way between eight countries - the European Repository Development Organisation which includes the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Bulgaria - about transportation and storage of waste. It is due to meet again in May.

In Slovenia, a repository for low-level waste is under construction at Vrbina in the east of the country. Last July, the local community agreed to accept its construction in exchange for EUR5 million (lb4.4 million) a year in compensation, according to the World Nuclear Association.

So far, only a handful of countries worldwide have built a permanent resting place for their stockpiles of waste, the unwanted by-product of nuclear power generation. The rest keep the material in interim storage facilities, such as Britain's Sellafield plant in West Cumbria, where about 5,000 half-tonne canisters of vitrified atomic waste are stored in concrete and steel chutes, some of which will remain highly radioactive for up to 100,000 years.

Holland has just 30 cubic meters of high level nuclear waste compared to nearly 1900 cubic meters in the UK and a similar amount in France, which are proposing to build their own multi- billion euro repositories. Along with Germany they are also opposed to the permanent export of nuclear waste on principle.

The cost of the Netherlands building its own safe secure long-term facility would be about EUR2 billion (lb1.75 billion). Other member states involved in the project such as Slovakia, Lithuania and Slovenia are facing similar challenges. With just one or two reactors per country, they would prefer to jointly bear the huge costs of building a geological repository. Bulgaria and Romania have just two reactors while Slovenia has just one which it shares with Croatia.

Neil Chapman of the Association of Regional and International Storage (ARIUS), a Switzerland-based group involved in the talks, said that none of the countries has yet publicly stated a willingness to act as host but acknowledged that payment would be involved.

"At some point one of the countries would agree to be the host," said Dr Verhoef. "But first you have to agree on the type of process and then you would seek volunteers."

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