Commissioners de Palacio and Busquin visit underground research facility for radioactive waste disposal

January 30, 2003

Brussels, 29 January 2003

In a few years time, all high-level radioactive waste in Europe should be buried deep underground. To check progress towards sustainable long-term nuclear waste management, on 4 February 2003 European Commission Vice-president and Energy and Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio and Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin will visit the European Underground Research Infrastructure for Disposal of nuclear waste In Clay Environment (EURIDICE) in Mol (Belgium). At present, spent nuclear fuel and high level waste are safely stored in facilities close to power plants or in national storage centres.

"We are in the process of devising a truly common EU approach to nuclear safety," said Loyola de Palacio. "But we still have to face a major problem of how to dispose of waste with a long radioactive life. This is a top priority, whatever the opinions are about nuclear energy, as radioactive waste is a reality that face all European countries."

"A lot a progress has been made towards identifying appropriate sites and developing the necessary disposal technology for underground waste management" said Commissioner Busquin. "But we need one more, decisive research effort.: Greater co-operation between Member States and with industry is necessary. The Commission contributes with its research programme in the nuclear field, for instance with initiatives to network national nuclear waste management initiatives."

Nuclear waste management at a crossroads

To date there is no facility for the geological disposal of spent fuel or highly radioactive waste. But the European Commission believes that priority should be given to the geological disposal of the waste as this is the safest method for its long-term management known at this time. The European Commission also wants to step up research efforts and better co-ordinate national research programmes in radioactive waste management.

EU-funded nuclear research

Managing radioactive waste is a priority in the €1.203 billion EURATOM Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006): €90 million will go to nuclear waste disposal research. This will cover research on geological disposal and on nuclear incineration. The Framework Programme will focus on improving co-operation between national radioactive waste organisations, for instance with projects such as Net.Excel, a network of nuclear research centres in Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Research carried out in underground research facilities, such as the European Underground Research Infrastructure for Disposal of nuclear waste In Clay Environment (EURIDICE) in Mol, Belgium, is key to this development. In the past, the Commission has supported research at Mol, and in other underground research laboratories, such as Tournemire in France, Asse in Germany and Äspö in Sweden.

Underground Research in Mol, Belgium

Research and testing on geological disposal of radioactive waste in clay layers has been carried out for over 20 years in the surface and underground research facilities in the URF (Underground Research Facility) HADES (High-Activity Disposal Experimental Site) located on the site of the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK.CEN) at Mol.

In December 2000, the Economic Interest Grouping (EIG) EURIDICE, or European Underground Research Infrastructure for Disposal of nuclear waste In Clay Environment, was created as a joint venture between ONDRAF/NIRAS (the Belgian Waste Management Agency) and SCK.CEN. This joint venture was created to bring together the knowledge and experience of both organisations in research and development on the possibility of disposal of radioactive waste in clay layers.

For further information on EU nuclear research and Euratom please visit:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/energy/fi/fi_en.html

DN: IP/03/134 Date: 29/01/2003

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