IAEA team recommends improvements to Denmark’s radwaste program

May 13, 2022, 12:00PMRadwaste Solutions
Denmark’s Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy. The two cylindrical buildings outermost on the peninsula contained the two nuclear reactors DR-2 and DR-3. (Photo: DTU)

An independent review of Denmark’s radioactive waste management program by an International Atomic Energy Agency team found that the country has developed a robust and well-functioning system, but that the national program needs further refinement if it is to be effectively implemented.

The government of Denmark requested the review of its waste management program to fulfil its European Union obligations requiring an independent review of EU member states’ national radioactive waste management programs. The Danish parliament adopted a resolution outlining the policy goals and activities of its national program for safely managing radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel in 2018.

Background: While Denmark has no nuclear power plants, it does manage radioactive waste and spent fuel from the ongoing decommissioning of six nuclear facilities at Risø National Laboratory, including three research reactors, a hot cells facility, a fuel fabrication plant, and a waste treatment plant. The decommissioning waste is treated and stored by Danish Decommissioning, a state-owned company, which also manages radioactive waste from the previous operation of the facilities and the use of radiation sources in medicine, industry, and research in Denmark.

Denmark is working toward constructing a radioactive waste repository that will be operational by 2073 at the latest. Until then, waste will be stored at the Risø site at a new facility that is scheduled to be operational by 2025.

ARTEMIS review: The review of Denmark’s program was conducted by an IAEA Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning, and Remediation (ARTEMIS) mission team, comprising four experts from Germany, Italy, Lithuania, and Switzerland and supported by three IAEA staff members. ARTEMIS missions provide independent expert advice from an international team of specialists convened by the IAEA.

According to the IAEA, the team conducted interviews and discussions during May 1–9 with representatives of the Danish Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, the Danish Emergency Management Agency, the Danish Health Authority, Radiation Protection, and Danish Decommissioning.

Based on those exchanges, as well as a visit to the Risø facilities, the ARTEMIS team prepared a draft report that was handed over at the official exit meeting held on May 9. That report will be provided to the government in about two months, according to the IAEA.

Recommendations: The draft report prepared by the ARTEMIS team contains recommendations and suggestions for implementing Denmark’s radioactive waste management program, including:

  • The Danish government should update its national program for the management of all types of radioactive waste to include appropriate interim targets and end states monitoring the program’s implementation.
  • The government should establish a compliance assurance procedure for the implementation of the national program.
  • The implementer for the planned new disposal facility should develop generic waste acceptance criteria for disposal and—as soon as a facility-specific safety case is available—final waste acceptance criteria based on regulatory requirements.

They said it: “With the progress of the decommissioning activities, the approaching challenges in waste management are already in view for Danish Decommissioning,” said ARTEMIS team leader Stefan Theis, deputy director of Switzerland’s Waste Management Department of the Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate. “We are confident that they will manage the upcoming transformation phase successfully and adjust their competences as needed.”

Kristoffer Brix Bertelsen, senior advisor from Denmark’s Ministry of Higher Education and Science, added, “The observations and remarks of the independent experts of the IAEA ARTEMIS mission to Denmark are much appreciated and will serve to guide further efforts of Denmark in the area of radioactive waste management.”

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