After 40 years of research, a policy decision on geological disposal of high-level and/or long-lived waste becomes possible

 

Extensive research on the long-term management of high-level and/or long-lived radioactive waste has been conducted in our country over the past forty years. Studies devoted to geological disposal in poorly indurated clay have reached a level which allows the federal government to make a decision in terms of the national policy. This is the first decision which should lead to the implementation of an underground disposal facility.

A large part of the research devoted to geological disposal has taken place in the HADES underground laboratory in Mol, 225 metres below ground. The laboratory's construction started in 1980. It is operated by the EIG EURIDICE, an economic interest grouping created by ONDRAF/NIRAS and the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre - SCK•CEN. Over the past decades, scientists and engineers have obtained crucial results for the construction of the storage facility. "We have been able to show that it is possible to build shafts and galleries in deep clay layers using industrial methods", explains Marc Demarche, the Chairman of EURIDICE.

A large-scale heater experiment is currently in progress at the underground laboratory. Heater experiments carried out on a smaller scale have already shown that the warming of the clay would not endanger the safety of geological disposal. Scientists want to confirm this fact and refine the results through a large-scale experiment. In the frame of this experiment, a 30-metre long gallery will be heated with electrical heaters for ten years to a temperature of 80°C. The aim is to reproduce the effect of high-level waste, which emits heat. For Eric van Walle, Director General of SCK•CEN: "the heater experiment at HADES is carried out on a scale representative of a real disposal facility. This type of research is essential for proving long-term safety." 

However, the research will not stop there and will continue after the decision is taken with regard to the national policy. Jean-Paul Minon, Director General of ONDRAF/NIRAS, highlights the importance of this decision: "Once this decision has been taken, ONDRAF/NIRAS will be able to define the next phase of research more precisely, organise and optimise the different steps for future management and correctly estimate the cost of geological disposal." At present, the selection of a site for the actual disposal of waste is not on the agenda. For this, a decision-making process in stages will be required, including the active participation of the public and stakeholders in order to generate support from society.

What is EURIDICE? The EIG EURIDICE is an economic interest grouping created by ONDRAF/NIRAS and SCK•CEN. It studies the feasibility and safety of radioactive waste disposal. Thus, it contributes to ONDRAF/NIRAS's national disposal programme.

What is ONDRAF/NIRAS? Since 1980, ONDRAF/NIRAS, the Belgian Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials, has been responsible for all radioactive waste present in Belgium. ONDRAF/NIRAS defines and coordinates the research and development programme concerning the disposal of radioactive waste.

What is SCK•CEN? The Belgian Nuclear Research Centre focuses its research on pacific applications of nuclear research. SCK•CEN is active in different fields which are key to society, such as safety, radioprotection, medical radioisotopes, the dismantling of nuclear facilities and the disposal of waste. SCK•CEN works at MYRRHA, a multi-functional research facility for a new age.